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Just a slip of a girl
on 25 October 2003
Gerald Seymour's novels have transported us to so many places festering with suppurating animosities: the Balkans, Afghanistan, Kurdish Iraq, Italy, the old U.S.S.R., Lebanon, South Africa. In THE JOURNEYMAN TAILOR, we're off to one of the most intractable of Gordian knots, Northern Ireland.
Jon Jo Donnelly, a legend in his own time, is an IRA assassin on undercover assignment in the heart of England with his sniper rifle and cache of explosives. Back in Donnelly's Ulster home town, Song Bird is a British Security Service (MI5) informant embedded in the IRA infrastructure. Gary "Bren" Brennard, a newbie to MI5, is rushed over in short order to Northern Ireland to help run Song Bird after his predecessor's cover is blown.
Jon Jo is killing at will in Britain's hinterland. The PM wants his head on a platter yesterday. MI5's plan is to lure Donnelly back to his farm and family, at which time he can be isolated by Song Bird for elimination by Her Majesty's forces.
The focus of this thriller isn't Jon Jo, Song Bird or Bren. Rather, it's young Cathy Parker, ruefully characterized as "a slip of a thing" by the Assistant Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, whose ears have been burned by Parker's no-compromise lecture on Song Bird's importance. Cathy is Bren's boss on the ground and the informer's recruiter and chief handler.
In Seymour's other novels that I've read, the primary protagonist's motives are revealed. In Parker's case, we learn little of her background other than she's the renegade daughter of affluent English parents. In the now, she's red-haired, 5 foot 4 inches tall, weighs 8 stone 3 pounds, obsessively driven by her job, idolized by her male peers, backed to the max by her superiors, and affectionately regarded by MI5's otherwise bitter rivals in the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Special Air Services. An alpha female that draws males like moths to light. Will Bren's wings get singed?
Since Seymour doesn't repeat a main character in other novels, it's unlikely we're to meet Cathy again. A pity, since, to me at least, she's proved to be one of the author's most engaging creations. Parker aside, however, this riveting book continue's the author's tradition of giving the reader a (presumably) realistic insight into the minds and hearts of the ordinary people who fight the gritty conflicts in the grotty corners of the civilized world where there are no winners and losers - only survivors. This is good stuff - the best of the genre on pulp fiction shelves.