Like most Englishmen or women, nothing made me hit the TV zapper faster than reports of the latest misery in Northern Ireland. The drizzle of death rarely impinged on our lives, unless there was some oblique personal connection to the latest killing. Most of the time, for most people, the Troubles were a bore, involving two unattractive sets of murderers playing their own version of tit-for-tat, with the British Army doing a little bit of killing on the side. There was a reason for this lack of interest: the conflict, not quite a war, seemed intractable. As nothing could be done to end it, nothing new needed to be understood.
One of the strengths of Kevin Toolis’s compelling, chilling, coldly brilliant book is that it reawakens the mind to the reality of the Troubles and the need to understand why they took place. Toolis has not set out to write an ‘entertainment’, but it ends up as one. He has