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Book Review : Fear and Loathing in Embattled Belfast

January 03, 1986|DICK RORABACK | Times Staff Writer

Field of Blood by Gerald Seymour (Norton: $14.95)

In Belfast, it could come from anywhere: From behind a curtained window or a rooftop chimney, of course, but also from a trash can, a child's bicycle, a drain pipe, a baby carriage.

Death defiles with the British patrols through the streets of Belfast's Catholic neighborhoods, neighborhoods like raw wounds that willfully refuse to scab over.

It is from such a neighborhood, Turf Lodge, that Gingy McAnally has gone AWOL.

Gingy, the feckless, cowardly, unsavory little Irishman about whom this remarkable novel revolves, has committed his share of atrocities. He has done a fiver in Long Kesh prison and he has had his fill of it.

The Only Skill He Has

Gingy has been living, alone and unnoticed, over the border in the Irish Republic when they come for him, two men from his unit of the Provisional Wing of the IRA. "An oath's an oath," they remind him. "An oath's forever."

He is needed for his expertise in the firing of a rocket-powered grenade at a local judge. He has no choice. It is the only life he knows; his finesse with the RPG the only skill he has.

The assassination succeeds. Gingy is caught. For the first time in his life, he is given an option: Do 25 more years in "the Kesh" or, in return for lifetime immunity and relative amenity, turn "supergrass"--inform on his entire Provo brigade. As even the clergy acknowledge, informing is Belfast's only unpardonable sin.

With the festering streets of Belfast as backdrop, the struggle for Gingy's allegiance is the battleground of "Field of Blood"--a reference to the potter's field purchased by Judas' silver.

Fought in a Moral Vacuum

The authorities, with ill-disguised loathing, try to get to Gingy; the IRA tries to get at him. Neither faction is above the vilest of tactics.

It is a contest fought out in a moral vacuum. Even Gingy's residual courage is supplied second-hand, by the only person he trusts. The trustee, ironically, is David Ferris, a British officer whose tragic "weakness"--or so it is regarded by both camps--is his unwavering insistence that even the Provos are human beings.

The suspense--unresolved until the last page--is excruciating. The characterizations are unerring. The writing is uncompromising, superbly suited to its stage.

In the end, there is no moral. For in Northern Ireland, there is no end.

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