Martin Dillon is a fantastic analytical writer who does not shy away from the use masses of relevant detail. Instead of regurgitating pieces of text and information by passing it through his own editorial, he often includes the original transcripts of interviews, documents and even a complete printing of the IRA's 'Green Book', which is difficult to come by.
The book deals with snippets from the 40 years of Troubles in Ulster, and chronicles the lives of some of the key players involved in both the Republican and Loyalist sides. Dillon's research cannot be faulted - he is one of the most meticulous writers on the subject of the Troubles and I would find it difficult to question his integrity. He looks into aspects of the lives of killers such as Billy Wright by following them from childhood onwards, offering a truly impressive amount of detail on these otherwise shadowy figures.
'The Trigger Men' is something of a culmination of Dillon's works on the Troubles, and he does often quote and expand on his earlier books. My only criticism of Dillon is that there is more than a whisper of bias to his writings when he discusses mainstream Unionist politicians - he seems to have some sort of personal vendetta against DUP leader Ian Paisley, and his assertion that Paisley was essentially the political catalyst for actions of people like the Shankill Butchers is, in my view, unfair.
For anyone wishing to learn more about the Ulster Troubles, this is a very good starting point. It gives excellent, accurate information about Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries, and unapologetically dismisses false information included in other books on the subject (most notably the 'authorised' autobiographies released by former paramilitaries like Michael Stone). This is an excellent history book, it is engagingly written and enjoyable to read. Certainly a definitive piece of work.
The bulk of this book is a recycling of material published by Dillon elsewhere. The stories of Lennie Murphy, Michael Stone plus a variety of 'Dirty War' figures are presented in summary form with little or nothing new added. What then is the justification of this book's existence (apart from the obvious profit motive)? Dillon ostentatiously proclaims that "this book examines their (the trigger men's) social and family backgrounds, as well as historical factors which helped shape them into cold-blooded killers...It provides answers as to why they were imbued with inherited prejudice and blind hate". It actually does nothing of the sort. For all his skill as an investigative reporter, Dillon is a non-starter in the psychological/sociological arena. For example, he talks about Stone's "innate narcissism" - on what grounds is it innate? The same analytical weakness is evident in his use of vacuous terms like "instinctively criminal". His observation that "Stone has many of the personality characteristics of...Lenny Murphy" is vague and superficial and his comment that "I was only beginning to get inside his (Stone's) head", insofar as it implies that he later manages to do so is pompously arrogant in view of the shallowness of his 'psychological observations' (if that's not a misnomer). Insofar as only one of the 12 chapters of the book focuses on a republican 'trigger man', there is undoubtedly an unbalance in the book, but even more debilitating is Dillon's complete lack of empathy with (and frequent antipathy towards) his subjects. For example, the only case history to provide new and interesting information on its subject is the (opening) chapter on Billy Wright (Dillon having recently managed to interview Wright's sister in the US). It emerges that Wright had a horrendously traumatic childhood in which his sisters were raped 'in care' (which he knew about) and in which he himself was probably subjected to sexual abuse. In approved school at 12 and into the junior ranks of the UVF on his release at 13, it is clear that we have a case of a traumatised teenager, yet Dillon chooses to refer to him as a "young thug", before shifting into the more comfortable area of whether or not Wright was a "terrorist agent". With his lack of empathy, absence of sociological and psychological knowledge and tabloidish language, it is patently clear that Dillon is simply not equipped to carry out a sociohistorical study.
The book should have been called "The Loyalist Trigger Men". Eleven of the thirteen chapters deal with loyalist terrorists. Another chapter is devoted to poetry and verse on victims of mostly loyalist terrorism. One chapter is on a republican terrorist.
Martin Dillon without condoning in any way the IRA tends to lean to the republican side. He uses a term 'physical force politics' in reference to the IRA. This is after all terrorism using a benign phrase.
The book is however fascinating and terrifying. It opens to the unknowing the dealings that were in place between government agencies and terrorists of both sides, and of deals between terrorists of opposing sides.
The book brings the brutality, and fanaticism of the trigger men right into your face. For all that it is terrifying I found the book compulsive reading.
This is a great read from someone who obviously knows his stuff. I just wish it had been a little more balanced and included some IRA trigger men. Having said that though it was a very informative read and gave me some insight into the loyalist fears and mindset.And the dirty tricks the Force Research Unit got into. Well recommended.
This and the author's "Dirty War" start with the ludicrous claim that the author has daringly exposed what was actually fairly well-known British colonial counterinsurgency doctrine and how this led to all sorts of dirty tricks. There are much, much better accounts of this area, including Peter Taylor's "Brits" and the excellent "The Irish War" by Tony Gerraghty. These show, without the shallow "look what I found!" sensationalism, how the Security Force's covert tactics really evolved (stumbling fairly regularly)- from the amateurish but for a time effective Four Square Laundry to the sophisticated tactics described in "the Operators" by James Rennie, which finally succeeded in really closing down on the terrorists and helped convince them they had reached the end of that long and bloody road.
There's really nothing much secret about counterinsurgency doctrine, British or otherwise, tho states tend to struggle to re-invent and apply it to successive conflicts, as in Vietnam, NI, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Even if you started off believing all you ever heard about "British-Loyalist collusion", this author doesn't do a very good or convincing job, technically. His affectations of insight and expertise ring very hollow. Instead, the book reads more like a hack reporter trying to string together a lot of tabloid journalism with some rather weak efforts to claim some sort of "shock, horror" exposé.
Although this book covers the same ground as Dillons previous ones,it contains information that couldn't be put in before because of legal reasons. For instance the chapter on the loyalist UVF unit known as the Shankhill Butchers,names one of the members which he couldn't do in his 1989 SHANKHILL BUTCHERS book because the member died in 1997. There are chapters on LVF leader Billy Wright(Dillon interviewed him), UDA hitman Michael Stone, 'mad dog' Johnny Adair, INLA leader Dominic 'mad dog' McGlinchey, british agent Brian Nelson,the Kincora sex scandal and its security force links.Much more including Dillon's own view on the STAKEKNIFE affair(IRA informer working for the british). It's not his best book but he's one of the best writers on Northern Irelands paramilitary conflict. Recommended.
Having gown up in Belfast and having experienced the Irish conflict, I have spent many hours studying many aspects of our troubles. This book is rather interesting in the sense that we can get a peek behind the curtains into the personal life of some of the most notorious players of the conflict. It was worth a read and I am a fan of Dillion's writings.