My favorite books about Northern Ireland since the end of the Troubles

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in this place, born here when the Troubles began. In one form or another, the conflict was everywhere. It was built into the infrastructure, into attitudes. It infested conversations, hurt friendships, killed old folks, children, friends, and family. Fiction from and about Northern Ireland was inevitably hamstrung by that dominant, terrible story. Since the 1994 ceasefires, our fiction has come charging forward. It’s analytical, bullish, enlightening, funny as hell, and it moves us forward by taking honest stock of what came before. I love this emerging place and its new voices. And I love to read and write stories about it. It’s a stubborn home, often maddening, truly kind, forever breath-taking.

I wrote...

Did She See You?

By Jason Johnson,

Book cover of Did She See You?

What is my book about?

Miriam says her brain is intercepting random social media messages. Then she shoots her mother dead. Declared insane, the Belfast teenager gets locked in a psych ward. All she does there, all day, is murmur what she insists are the live, online exchanges running through her brain. Denis, Miriam’s migrant stepfather, was the only witness to the killing. He’s trying to develop his life coaching business yet can’t stop thinking about the murder. He is desperate to know if, in her last moment, his wife knew Miriam was about to kill her. During visits, he tries over and over to break through her noise with one question – Did She See You? And then another murder, but this one could not have been Miriam. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Divorcing Jack

Jason Johnson Why did I love this book?

I was twenty-five and enraged at the self-pity and posturing dominating the Irish peace process. I was dying to write yet terrified of even attempting to say anything in print. And then, like a rogue rocket, Divorcing Jack arrived. A hilarious assault on Northern Irish sacred cows right at the bitter end of the bloody Troubles. A timely, wisecracking strike back at a place where being a self-important Muppet had become a job description. So… Dan Starkey, suspected of murdering a lover, stumbles through local fiefdoms to solve the crime himself. He was in places I knew, bars I drank in, saying things that needed to be said. Divorcing Jack started a train of thought that still runs in my mind, one that insists rules are for rulers, not writers. 

By Colin Bateman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Divorcing Jack as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fast, funny, scary. A truly up-to-the-minute novel set in Belfast from a brilliant new writer. Now a major BBC/Scala film starring David Thewlis and Robert Lindsay. Dan Starkey is a young journalist in Belfast, who shares with his wife, Patricia, a prodigious appetite for drinking and dancing. Then Dan meets Margaret, a beautiful and apparently impoverished student, and things begin to get out of hand. And then, terrifyingly, Margaret is murdered. Is it because of her liaison with Dan? Is it because she was not exactly who she claimed to be? Is it the IRA? A Protestant extremist group? A…

Book cover of Murder Memoir Murder

Jason Johnson Why did I love this book?

A masked IRA gunman presses a bullet into a small hand. He warns the boy he’ll put the same bullet into his father if instructions are disobeyed. It’s a pointed detail because it happened. The author was that boy. This story glides between fiction and nonfiction in search of truths about two rural murders and a vanished informer. But, as we have been learning here, dissecting darkness reveals only darkness. At heart this is a tale of a family’s composure, of a faithful bond to land, of being at odds with truths and lies. And that omnipresent terrain, with its moving shadows and thorny wilds, played witness to it all. This story takes place near where I grew up. It has stayed with me longer than I’m used to.

By Anthony J. Quinn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Murder Memoir Murder as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The result is a breathtakingly brutal piece of crime writing that is relentless in its pursuit of the truth"
Declan Burke in the Irish Times

"Among many other things, Murder Memoir Murder is a brilliant evocation of Ireland's border culture, its contentions and unwritten protocols" Garrett Carr, author of The Rule of the Land

"Hugely evocative, deeply felt and beautifully written, Murder Memoir Murder is a brave, brutal exploration of our shared past, his family’s own personal history and the act of storytelling itself." Brian McGilloway

Murder Memoir Murder is both a memoir and a crime fiction story involving a…

Book cover of Eureka Street: A Novel of Ireland Like No Other

Jason Johnson Why did I love this book?

Absurd, funny, ingenious, sad, and violent, this book is an ode to Belfast. The first line – and I’m big into first lines – runs: “All stories are love stories.” Are they? Are they not? I still don’t know. Yet that’s the nature of the characters here, the nature of this cynical society too, back in 1994 as the ceasefire trembled into life and everyone was confused by the silence. So, ceasefire time, an obese Protestant waster cashes in by selling ‘ethnic accessories,’ including walking sticks for leprechauns. And his erudite, tough Catholic mate prowls Belfast while getting hassled and thinking deeply about getting laid. Self-appointed ‘revolutionaries’ get torn a new one here, and rightly so. All of Wilson’s books are blunt among the beautiful. Sadly there’s all too few of them.

By Robert McLiam Wilson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Eureka Street as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When your street address can either save your life or send it up the creek, there’s no telling what kind of daily challenges you’ll face in the era of the Northern Irish Troubles.

“All stories are love stories,” begins Eureka Street, Robert McLiam Wilson’s big-hearted and achingly funny novel. Set in Belfast during the Troubles, Eureka Street takes us into the lives and families of Chuckie Lurgan and Jake Jackson, a Protestant and a Catholic—unlikely pals and staunch allies in an uneasy time. When a new work of graffiti begins to show up throughout the city—“OTG”—the locals are stumped. The…

Book cover of The Midnight Killing

Jason Johnson Why did I love this book?

A man found hanging sparks suspicion so, just to check all is okay, the cops hang him again. Well, not him. A stand-in. But it’s a fine little detail that sums up this shrewd book – cold, hard, well-researched, loaded with bold ideas. This is Northern Ireland crime fiction as it should be, the procedural narrative we once struggled to host. Policing took place when cops were pretty much soldiers. Nowadays it’s different. And Dempsey’s crime fiction is second to none. The aftermath of the Troubles – and its socio-political complexity – is sewn in here, used to both enhance tension and amplify relationships. So, a forensic shrink and a cop explore the creepy case of a missing girl after the aforementioned hanging. Get your seat belt on – this thing twists.

By Sharon Dempsey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Midnight Killing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

She'd cycled this way hundreds of times before, every twist and turn familiar. She didn't know this would be the last.

When the body of architect James McCallum is found hanging in the grounds of his former school one cold night, DI Danny Stowe and forensic psychologist Rose Lainey suspect foul play behind his apparent suicide.

To their astonishment, the trail leads to a 20-year-old cold case of a missing girl, and a teenage party. But what was James' fascination with the case and how is it linked to his death?

Secrets don't stay buried forever - but the real…

Book cover of The Bones of It

Jason Johnson Why did I love this book?

How to address the bloody past is constantly debated in Northern Ireland. The lawyers can’t get it right, nor the politicians or police. Yet this writer does. The book strips everything away and leaves, well, the bones. It’s a father-and-son story. The former, an ex-paramilitary, takes in the troubled latter. The prison veteran father has been trying to be better. The lovesick son is trying to be normal. Both remain curiously opaque, their stories not quite gelling. These are precision-hewn Troubles characters, murderer and son, never as disappointed in each other as they are with themselves. Theirs is a small house filled with history and filling up with paranoia and mistrust. And we learn it all via a prison diary. A mighty debut novel.

By Kelly Creighton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Bones of It as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Thrown out of university, green-tea-drinking, meditation-loving Scott McAuley has no place to go but home: County Down, Northern Ireland. The only problem is, his father is there now too.

Duke wasn't around when Scott was growing up. He was in prison for stabbing two Catholic kids in an alley. But thanks to the Good Friday Agreement, big Duke is out now, reformed, a counselor.

Squeezed together into a small house, with too little work and too much time to think about what happened to Scott's dead mother, the tension grows between these two men, who seem to have so little…

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The River of Eternity

By Bruce Balfour,

Book cover of The River of Eternity

Bruce Balfour

New book alert!

What is my book about?

1184 BCE. Ramesses III, who will become the last of the great pharaohs, is returning home from battle. He will one day assume the throne of the Egyptian empire, and the plots against him and his children have already started. Even a god can die.

Ray was raised with the teenage children of Ramesses as their friend, but his own mysterious past exposes him to threats inside and outside of the Egyptian court. When a prince is killed, Ray is framed for the murder and must run to protect Bull, the oldest son of Ramesses. So begins Ray’s dangerous journey from the snake pit of royal palace intrigue into a violent world of treachery and enemies that will take years to conquer if he can survive.

The River of Eternity

By Bruce Balfour,

What is this book about?

From the national bestselling author of The Forge of Mars and The Digital Dead, an Ancient Egyptian epic adventure thriller series, based on real events, for fans of Wilbur Smith, Steven Saylor, and Paul Doherty.

This is the first book of a series leading up to the event known as The Harem Conspiracy, the assassination of Pharaoh Ramesses III in New Kingdom Egypt (1184 BCE), which was led by members of his own family. Details were drawn from the first recorded judicial trial transcript ever recovered (Judicial Papyrus of Turin plus other fragments of the original papyrus).

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