12:23 Paperback – 21 Jun 2007
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Utterly compelling, McNamee's dramatising of the conspiracies and
the obsessions around the tragic events of that night is brilliant and, as
ever, poetic. -- David Peace, author of The Damned Utd
12:23 by Eoin McNamee is a shocking novel exploring the mystery of the security services and the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.See all Product description
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And there are even more of them in 12:23. 12:23 tells the story of events in Paris leading up to the car crash that killed Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed. Paris is full of spooks, some working freelance, some working for the British, some for the French, and some working for powers unseen. McNamee evokes an atmosphere in which something is going to happen. An atmosphere in which Dodi and Diana are following a course of action that simply can't be sustained; one that will inevitably lead to calamity before terribly much longer.
And although Dodi and Diana seem to be at the centre of the piece, they are hardly seen, They are playing a part that seems scripted, whilst the free choice is left to the various spooks, to Henri Paul (the head of Ritz security), and to the paparazzi. The narrative takes various viewpoints, and Diana's is seldom shown. What we do see shows a woman swho is resentful at the lack of control; at being herded through service corridors as she is bundled from venue to venue. We see a character who has not thought deeply about the unsustainable position she has created; about the conflict between the political stances she has taken and those with whom she is associating. She doesn't seem to have given even a cursory thought to the establishment that her eldest son is destined to lead.
Much of the narrative follows Harper, an ex-RUC Special Branch man who has been hired by Bennett, ex MI5, who has been hired by Max LaFontaine, to watch Henri Paul. Harper represents the seamy underbelly of security where much of the work is dull, where remits are unclear, and where the highest bidder wins. Harper is the 1990s version of a cold war spy - the battle for which he was trained is entering the end game without him, he is unloved, but still has his basic skills at hand. He has been rotting on a Belfast building site and jumps as the chance to get back involved, even with a mundane watching brief and on behalf of an unknown principal.
After a game of cat and mouse across the city in which it becomes clear that something is going pretty wrong, the inevitable crash happens. We can see it coming as the various narratives are headed with the date and time, and it draws inexorably closer to the 12:23 of the front cover. As the spooks stand in the tunnel assessing the situation, we have the ghouls - the paparazzi and other tourists stopping to get a good look at the action. They snap away at the injured couple, who are part of some macabre freak show. The chaos of the scene is well constructed, but I'm not sure the spooks would have felt like lingering on the scene.
And as the dust settles on the evening, we start to see just who was doing what in Paris that summer. We find out who the winner was, and discover who have been played for fools.
This is an unusual departure for Eoin McNamee. He has established a reputation for historical thrillers in which much of the action, and definitely the ending, remain shrouded in mystery. And writing as John Creed, he writes fictitious situations that are resolved with clarity. But this is the first histiorical novel in which the actions are largely unambiguous. This is problematic. McNamee appears to be holding up the conspiracy theory of Diana's death as a fact. Whilst much of the plot may be technically credible on the page, it is difficult to believe that it is what actually happened in reality. This confusion has an unfortunate effect of undermining the credibility of other McNamee works.
The writing, though, is superb. McNamee uses some brilliant turns of phrase to crank up the atmosphere. The detailing is there; the backstories; the descriptions; the intrigue and the pacing - all done to perfection. But one wonders whether the air would really have been quite so pregnant leading up to the crash, or whether that is a creation with the benefit of hindsight. Perhaps it depends upon whether you actually believe any of the conspiracy theories.
It's an odd work, especially only 10 years after the events it describes. It's somewhere between and four and a five star rating, but seeing as it's Christmas...
So when '12:23' finally hit my doormat, I grabbed the sucker and sat entranced for four hours. I reckon I could have read the novel in well under two hours, as it is a slim novel in terms of page-count, but bloody hell, it is a big book in terms of Ideas, literary style and the atmosphere it conjured in my head, hence forcing me to read slowly, meticulously absorbing every word, every sentence into my fevered mind, such is the dark beauty of McNamee's tremendous novel.
The premise of "12:23' is that several international spies from various agencies working both officially as well as unofficially are converging on Paris to watch what happens to Princess Diana - referred to in the text simply as `Spencer'. There are rumors that she is pregnant with a child spawned by Dodi-al-Fayed - referred to in the text as `The Arab', with a whiff of racism fueled by the dark figures that seem to be connected to the British `establishment'. Far more disturbing is that McNamee's research indicates that that Dodi's mother was Samira Kashoggi, sister of the notorious weapons dealer, Adnan Khashoggi.
Then there is Mossad activity as it is rumored that `Spencer' will be making a speech taking a stand with the Arabic Palestinians in their war with Israel, there are even the followers of The Solar Temple Cult implicated, but let's not ignore the shadowy figures from a cabal of ammunitions traders concerned that `Spencer' is eroding their market for Landmines. However what would a British Espionage novel be without involvement with the French. But it is the interactions of a unit of low-level and grungy British Spies that powers this narrative forward almost as fast as Henri Paul drove that night with the photographers in fast pursuit. McNamee writes with an observed and perceptive intellect and with literary power that makes this book captivating - but also deeply disturbing. Like the previous British penned thriller set in Paris - The Day of The Jackal, where we knew the outcome right from the start. The skill of the writers Frederick Forsyth and now McNamee allows us still to be captivated as the various characters in this story converge to the brutal and disturbing climax. The politics of Northern Ireland and a banal murder onboard an Irish ferry triggers the hiring of one of the British agents, while the others face their own demons, but nothing is as it seems as they watch the proceedings with impotent cynicism.
McNamee writes his prose like a magician as there is an abundance of smoke and silvery mirrors shielding the truth until the end, when he rolls up his sleeves revealing his fictional take on the event, which like a landmine was hidden in plain sight.
Like the missing Fiat Uno that was allegedly involved in the incident, the plot concludes with a disturbing series of people vanishing. This novel must be a very strong contender for next years CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger.
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