Pray for Us Sinners, originally published in 2000 is dropping on the literary scene once again. The author, Patrick Taylor, has found great success and renown in these thirteen years for his fiction set in the Irish countryside, most notably with his Irish Country series.
Taylor has an interesting and successful past: growing up in Northern Ireland, earning his M.D., leaving the troubles of his home country for Canada where he contributed to the field of medical research, and eventually throwing his hat in the ring of novel writing.
Pray for Us Sinners is a tale of war, a story that takes place during the battle for Northern Ireland. The Provisional IRA is concocting schemes to make Belfast and the rest of the six counties of Northern Ireland ungovernable.
If the British can’t control the lands they will be forced to leave. In this effort the Provos are becoming more daring and savage, attacking civilian targets to get at the British.
In this climate of bombings and violence, an old school Irish bomb maker, Davy MacCutheon, a hard man who has seen it all and never cared for the civilian strikes, is having his resolve tested by the atrocities he witnesses and the pressure he receives from his love, Fiona, to get out.
On the other side, Marcus Richardson is a British bomb disposal officer. Marcus takes stock of his life after a car bomb nearly takes it. He has faced fear all his life, but now he doesn’t think he wants to anymore. When offered a position in the SAS, Marcus takes the most dangerous mission he’s ever faced, to go undercover and infiltrate the Provisional IRA. This mission will test Richardson, making him question his resolve, his motives, and what exactly he wants in life.
Through the course of the story, these two men’s paths cross, both needing something from the other. They are each trying to find their way out, but with one more job to do, the clock is ticking.
The story goes deeper than the fighting; it is a chronicling of the hatred, which perpetuated the conflict, and the humanity that struggled and flourished even under its shadow. Taylor displays the conditions of Belfast in the early years of the recent Irish “troubles”: bombings, unemployment, Protestant elitism, and Catholic hostility. But he also shows friendships and relationships founded in love and respect, characters trying to show that Catholic or Protestant, people share a common thread.
John Keating, an actor that has lent his talents to Taylor’s writings numerous times reading for the Irish Country series, draws the listener in with his Irish brogue and various English accents giving the feel that we are having a pint in the pub with Marcus or Davy, or standing at attention during a meeting with Marcus’s higher-ups.
The knowledge and talent of both the reader and author create an enjoyable, captivating, and often tense drive through the bomb-torn streets of Belfast in the 1970s. Taylor’s pace and breaks usually make it easy to follow the action and the characters.
It may just be my Irish heritage, or the skill and knowledge Taylor and Keating bring to Pray for Us Sinners, but I found myself interested from start to finish. And if you enjoy this story, you’ll be happy to know that there is a sequel, Now and in the Hour of Our Death, for your reading (as it has not yet made the leap to audio) pleasure.