Browser: Excellent investigation into Russia’s foreign assassinations

Brief reviews of From Russia with Blood by Heidi Blake; People in My Brain by Pat O’Connor; The Hungry Road by Marita Conlon-McKenna; and Guest House for Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni

Army officers remove the bench where Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found, in Salisbury, Wiltshire. Photograph: Will Oliver/EPA

Army officers remove the bench where Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found, in Salisbury, Wiltshire. Photograph: Will Oliver/EPA

 

From Russia with Blood
By Heidi Blake
William Collins, £20

Heidi Blake has put together a riveting read. The book’s heart documents Russia’s brazen targeted assassinations on foreign soil – in Britain especially – and skilfully ties the narrative to the consequences of the huge smash-and-grab of state assets in post-Soviet Russia: the Machiavellian Putin; the dirty money that washed up in Britain, which has left a stain on its international reputation, culminating in a chemical weapons attack on the streets of Salisbury in 2018. Blake has an eye for detail, be it in the world of intelligence or on the oligarchs’ orgiastic ideas of living, and the book is packed with excellent research, much of it garnered originally by the author and the team at BuzzFeed News. An excellent piece of investigative journalism. Essential reading. NJ McGarrigle

People in My Brain
Pat O’Connor
Limerick Writers Centre, €12

In this tripartite collection, the stories in the first part, with the exception of The Fly, are excellent. Advice and Sandwiches is clever and unusual; Prizes is very original; Keeper Hill is a frightening story of a tsunami possibly approaching Ireland; Tulips is a truly harrowing story of a family desperately trying to survive the economic crisis and King of the Pippins is a lovely story of a tenacious old apple tree that survives generations of a family. The second part, entitled Chinese Sunglasses, is a long, interesting, imaginative story of an Irish tourist in China communicating via interactive sunglasses she discovers in a market. The stories in the third part are more abstract and zany and perhaps not as successful but they display unexpected twists, none more so than The God of Thin Women. Brian Maye

The Hungry Road
By Marita Conlon-McKenna
Transworld Ireland, £12.99

Set in Cork during the time of the potato blight, The Hungry Road is Marita Conlon-McKenna’s latest novel to deal with the Great Famine. Mary, a seamstress, wife and mother, lives with her family on a small holding in Cork. When the potato blight destroys the crops, she and her husband John are determined to save their family and start a new life elsewhere. Dan Donovan, the local GP, dedicates himself to helping the starving people. Father Fitzpatrick oversees the devastation of his flock. Interspersed with these stories is Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator, who travels the country gathering support. Through the narrative of this compelling book we see the real tragedy of the Famine: the indifference of the authorities to the suffering; the coffin ships; the vast quantities of food leaving Ireland every day for England. A sad story that nonetheless shows the indomitable nature of the human spirit.

Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of ISIS
Azadeh Moaveni
Scribe, £16.99

Young Widows follows 13 women who sought lives within, or in support of, the Islamic State (women made up 17 per cent of Europeans who travelled to the caliphate). Moaveni is an experienced reporter on Middle East affairs and she describes in intimate detail the womens’ journeys from relatively normal backgrounds to an existence inside a brutal statelet. She digs deep to bury any stereotypes or lazy assumptions we may have in Western culture about these women, and her writing is full of compassion for what in the end were a group of young girls sold a pipe dream which in reality was a nightmare. An insightful read on our ideas of disconnection and displacement in society, terrorism, and how religion and ideology preys upon the vulnerable. NJ McGarrigle

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