It's Christmastime in England, and a group of very disparate people are in the streets of one city, trying to get their shopping done or run other errands. Then a bomb goes off, and Maddy loses her husband and son instantly; her daughter is gravely injured. Rob, a doctor, loses the African child he had brought to England for medical treatment and whom he planned to adopt, along with his African girlfriend. An actor loses his partner, another man his girlfriend. But as the death toll mounts, the police investigation stalls...
From the start, this isn't a book about "whodunnit". The reader knows, from very early on, that the culprits are a renegade group of Irish terrorists try to derail the peace process. Indeed, a big part of the tension and drama in the story revolves are juxtaposing the experiences of Maddy, Rob and the other victims with the ordinary lives of the perpetrators, once they are safely out of England and home again. One sister, pregnant with her first child, plans her wedding as the other ponders future terrorist actions.
But with some mysterious tips about who police believe -- but can't prove -- are the culprits, Maddy, Rob and the others decide their only course of action is to punish the terrorists themselves. The tables are turned, and the suspense of this gripping thriller revolves around whether the victims can become perpetrators, whether the police will, ironically, manage to identify and prosecute them for their acts of revenge when they still can't make a case against the terrorists, and whether the terrorists will find a way to strike back in their turn.
This is a straightforward thriller with a difficult question at its heart: is it ever acceptable for victims to take revenge themselves? The pace is non-stop and the drama intense, from Maddy's daughter fight for life to the final confrontation among the three groups of protagonists -- victims-turned-vigilantes, terrorists and law enforcement.
Highly recommended to anyone looking for a book that will remove them from the 'real world' for hours at a time. It's one that I read when it first appeared, and keep re-reading even now that I know all the plot twists -- the ultimate tribute. If you enjoy it, take a look at Davies's other excellent book, Collaborator, set in a world where the English lost the war in 1940 and have been invaded by the Nazis. His other books, while good, don't measure up to these two excellent offerings, however.