Siren by Annemarie Neary

A soggy sandwich with a great filling…

🙂 🙂 😐

Twenty years ago, Róisín Burns had to flee her home in Northern Ireland after getting caught up in the Troubles. Now the IRA man she fled from, Lonergan, has reinvented himself as a politician, and Róisín has returned to take revenge, sort of. Or something.

This is another of the ubiquitous trend for books set part in the past and part in the present and, like so many of them, one part is much stronger than the other. The past section is set at the height of the Troubles, and Neary gives a convincing picture of a young girl trapped into doing the IRA’s bidding in a city where fear is a constant presence. The present is a silly thriller with absolutely no credibility whatsoever and drags interminably. In fact, had I not been reading this for Reading Ireland month, I would undoubtedly have abandoned it before I even got to the past, since it takes almost a third of the book to get there, apart from the brief prologue.

Róisín, now known as Sheen, has turned up on Lamb Island off the coast of Northern Ireland, where Lonergan now has a cottage. Sheen rents a little cottage too, isolated of course, just up the road from the resident nutter whom everyone assumes murdered the previous woman tenant. They don’t bother to tell Sheen this though, contenting themselves with warning the nutter, Boyle, to behave himself. He doesn’t. But he’s not the only bad man on the island – for such a small population it seems to attract more than its fair share of men willing to bump off lone women, for personal as well as political reasons. We spend an inordinate amount of time inside Boyle’s foul-mouthed and lustful head – ugh! (Constantly using “fucken” instead of “fucking” really doesn’t make it cute, by the way, especially when there’s no other attempt to reproduce Irish speech or accent.) Tedious in the extreme.

Then we go back to Belfast to what seems like the mid-’70s, though we’re not told exactly. The Troubles are at their height, with frequent beatings and bombings directed at both British soldiers and civilians fairly indiscriminately. This section feels almost as if it’s written by a different author. The city and its people are recreated with a real feeling of authenticity, and Neary raises a lot of intriguing questions about where moral responsibility begins and ends in a situation where the norms have disappeared and law and order have almost completely broken down. At first Róisín is tricked into helping the IRA, but after that she has to make choices – pay the consequences or continue down the path of terrorism, this time knowingly. Neary shows how grey that question becomes in a sharply divided society, where informers on either side are at extreme risk. She also touches on the question of how far the crimes of the past must be forgotten or forgiven in the pursuit of peace.

Annemarie Neary

And then sadly back to Lamb Island for a ridiculous thriller ending. The idea is ludicrous that a middle-aged woman with no combat experience or training would decide to take on members of the IRA whom she knows have no compunction about killing. And so unnecessary, since if Róisín simply wanted to destroy Lonergan, she could have sent an email to the police or the newspapers from the safety of her American home. But instead she comes back to Ireland to face Lonergan herself, to… I’m not really sure what… threaten him? Shame him? Neither tactic likely to work on an IRA terrorist, I’d have thought. And then it gets even sillier…

So a mixed bag. If Neary had stuck to telling the real story – the one in the past – this could have been an excellent book. Instead it’s like a sandwich with a great filling, but slapped between two thick pieces of soggy and underbaked bread. Maybe it’s time for authors to start telling one story again, instead of feeling obliged to stick in an extra timeline and a thriller ending – as all trends do, this one has seriously lost its novelty value. Sadly I see her new book follows the same double timeline format, so I think I’ll pass on that one.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House Cornerstone.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

40 thoughts on “Siren by Annemarie Neary

  1. Out of pure selfishness, I was pleased this book was a bit pants as you do great reviews of books you don’t like! It’s at least a saving grace that the Troubles have been carefully handled, as that piece of recent history is still so prominent in modern lives and politics and remains a tricky and emotive matter. Now then, seeing this is reading Ireland month, surely it is time you had a peek at Finnegans Wake? Hmm? 😉

  2. Ah, shame you found this a bit of a mixed bag. My tolerance for thrillers is much higher than yours (comes from having to read more than my fair share of mediocre ones, I suspect), and I didn’t think this was too bad. In fact, I thought Neary would be a talent to watch in the future. We’ll see what happens when I read her next book…

    • I always have issues if a book strays too far over my credibility line – though some can get away with it by bringing in a bit of humour. But I thought the middle section of this showed she has a lot of talent, and felt the format really spoiled what could have been a much more serious novel. And I was going to end the review saying I’d look out for her next one, till I saw it’s due out soon and follows the same format… oh, well! I’ll still be intrigued to see where she goes in the future…

  3. I am sorry to hear you weren’t impressed with this one, FIctionFan. I know exactly what you mean, though, about one part of this sort of story being a lot better than the other. I’ve seen that happen a lot, too. And I know exactly what you mean about characters like Boyle. They irk me, too. Not sure I’ll put this on the radar, but that part set in the 1970s is intriguing…

    • It was a pity because the middle section really showed that she has a lot of talent. Sometimes I think authors get sucked into doing the thriller format when really a straight fiction format would suit the material better. The dual timeline can work well when it’s appropriate and when both sections are relevant, but it’s become another of these overused bandwagons recently. And as for being inside Boyle’s head? Ugh! I’d rather not… 😉

    • Quite possibly – publishers seem determined to ensure that every book is identical to every other one! I wonder if they’ve never heard that variety is apparently the spice of life… 😉

  4. What a pity you didn’t find this one to your liking — after reading the initial premise, I thought it might be intriguing. Glad I let you read and review it before I spent time with it, ha!

    • It was a pity, because the stuff about Belfast and the IRA was so well done, but it was just spoiled by tacking on the unbelievable thriller stuff. Oh, well – I’ve had a good run recently so it was time for a less good one!

  5. I’m sad in a way this wasn’t stronger in both halves although that has to be the quickest dismissal of a strand of the story ever in the history of FF reviews! 😉 On the other hand I was tempted by this one, and now no more so one less book to worry about creeping into the house when I’m not watching!

    • Ha! I was feeling a bit brutal because the Belfast sections showed she really has the talent ot write a great book, so why she was messing about with all the ridiculous thriller stuff, I don’t know! I shall attempt to find a better one to tempt you with soon… 😉

  6. I often think that the two time period thing isn’t rather over done these days. It almost (dare I say) seems a lazy way to do things. Some writers do it so well it is seamless the past and present very much a part of the same thing. When it isn’t done well it is clunky and disappointing.

    • Nearly every book seems to be doing it at the moment, certainly in crime, but even in quite a lot of fiction too. Sometimes it really works, if both parts of the story have equal weight and something to say, but sometimes it feels so contrived – and I’m afraid it did in this one. Pity, because there was plenty in the Belfast/IRA section to make a full and insightful novel out of…

  7. It’s too bad the author didn’t read your review before writing her next book – maybe she would have taken your advice and stuck to one timeline! Perhaps next time…

    • Haha! I expect there are enough people who like the dual timeline thing to make up for grumpy reviews like mine! 😉 But I do hope she’ll write a straight novel some day – the Belfast/IRA sections showed she really has a lot of talent…

    • It was a pity, though, because the Belfast/IRA stuff was really good – I wish she’d stuck with that. But I’ve had a good run recently, so I suppose it was time for a dip… 😉

    • Ha! This sandwich might have gone in the bin if I hadn’t kinda committed to reading it for the Begorrathon! Yes, the central section about the IRA and Belfast was definitely 5-star, whereas for me the present-day thriller was real 1-star stuff, so it averaged out at the halfway mark…

    • I think because I’m reading a lot of older books with the Classics Club and the Russian stuff, I’m becoming more aware of how “trends” have taken over modern fiction. I wish they’d get back to relying on a good story and some great characterisation instead of all these gimmicks like dual timelines and present tense (not to mention grieving parents and dead children!) Yes, I’ll have that chocolate now, I think… 😉

  8. Argh. More than one timeline. Not my favorite…….. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy The Girl on the Train….

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