NORTHERN SPY by Flynn Berry

From the publisher:

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
REESE’S BOOK CLUB PICK
 
“If you love a mystery, then you’ll devour [Northern Spy] . . . I loved this thrill ride of a book.”—Reese Witherspoon

“A chilling, gorgeously written tale…Berry keeps the tension almost unbearably high.” –The New York Times Book Review

The acclaimed author of Under the Harrow and A Double Life returns with her most riveting novel to date: the story of two sisters who become entangled with the IRA

A producer at the BBC and mother to a new baby, Tessa is at work in Belfast one day when the news of another raid comes on the air. The IRA may have gone underground in the two decades since the Good Friday Agreement, but they never really went away, and lately bomb threats, security checkpoints, and helicopters floating ominously over the city have become features of everyday life. As the news reporter requests the public’s help in locating those responsible for the robbery, security footage reveals Tessa’s sister, Marian, pulling a black ski mask over her face.

The police believe Marian has joined the IRA, but Tessa is convinced she must have been abducted or coerced; the sisters have always opposed the violence enacted in the name of uniting Ireland. And besides, Marian is vacationing on the north coast. Tessa just spoke to her yesterday.

When the truth about Marian comes to light, Tessa is faced with impossible choices that will test the limits of her ideals, the bonds of her family, her notions of right and wrong, and her identity as a sister and a mother. Walking an increasingly perilous road, she wants nothing more than to protect the one person she loves more fiercely than her sister: her infant son, Finn.

Riveting, atmospheric, and exquisitely written, Northern Spy is at once a heart-pounding story of the contemporary IRA and a moving portrait of sister- and motherhood, and of life in a deeply divided society.


A novel set in Northern Ireland during a period of violent action by the IRA in their attempts to force England out of their country and allow for home rule. Tessa and her sister Marian are women experiencing the constant danger of literally living in a war zone. Tessa is a producer for the BBC: Belfast branch, a single mother while her sister works as a paramedic.   

Action begins when Tessa sees a picture of her sister apparently taking part in a robbery of a gas station. Her first reaction is that it is not real – Marian was away on a diving holiday not mixed up in a crime. But sadly it is the truth when her sister contacts her and confesses that she has joined the IRA and has been active in it for several years.     

In a very well set up plot, Berry brings to life the lives of two independent women living in an area subject to the constant threat of war. Tessa is raising a son on the heels of a breakup from the boy’s father. She also holds a responsible job that must be worked at while her sister’s job forces her to attend horrific situations caring for grievously wounded people. The author’s handling of the events of the novel builds up in a crescendo taking the reader along on an ever accelerating pace towards the end of the book. 

I found myself wondering how can a normal life be possible for people involved in the background of an active revolution. The real answer is it can’t, but circumstances, as outlined in Berry’s novel can and certainly do force the two sisters to adapt to what they are caught up in. Their mother also lives in the area and while independent is a source of worry for Tessa and Marian.       

Flynn Berry’s first novel won the Edgar award for best first novel propelling her into the top tier of her profession.  “Northern Spy” does continue evidencing her keen sense of how to set up a mesmerizing plot using a gift for language that is the hallmark of good writers. Join me in awaiting her forthcoming books and spending some very pleasant sleepless nights wrapped up in her novels.

5/2021 Paul Lane

NORTHERN SPY by Flynn Berry. Viking (April 6, 2021). ISBN: 978-0735224995. 288 pages.

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