Field of Blood
By Gerald Seymour
Field of Blood, Seymour’s eighth novel, is as good as his first and best-known one, Harry’s Game. In fact, it says something about Mr. Seymour’s prescience that what he wrote about 10 years ago still rings true, fictionally, in this later book.
The book is a thriller set in the context of Troubles. Two men, one an ex-IRA man and the other a reluctant British Lieutenant, become pawns in a deadly political game of cat-and-mouse.
“The weapon was in the city. The weapon and its single projectile were available and waiting. The marksmen were available and waiting. The strike was fixed by the Chief for the Thursday of the following week.
It was a good plan, too good to fail. That it seemed to have failed was a matter of dismal luck, the luck that had haunted the Organization in the last months.
Eammon Dalton and Fran Forde were stopped on the Glen Road at a randomly placed police road block. On another evening the two Volunteers might have carried off the person check with indifference, given their names and addresses quietly and calmly, spilled the fictitious every-night story of where they were going, and been cleared and sent on their way. They were heading, when they were waved down, to a final briefing from Brigade. They were nervous and strung taut and they aroused the interest of the heavily-armed constables peering down at the two young Catholics’ torch-lit faces. Dalton wouldn’t speak, and Forde gave, in the heat of the moment, an alias which was found a minute later to differ from the name on his driving licence. Dalton swore as soon as Forde had opened his idiot mouth. At first, of course, the policemen didn’t know what they had, but they guessed they had something. Dalton and Forde were pulled out of the car and their hands were spread on the roof, and their legs were kicked apart, and they could hear the sergeant feeding the registration of the car into his radio’s microphone – and that was bad luck because the car was a Datsun and the plates had been lifted off a Sierra. They were covered by an M1 carbine and a Sterling SMG, and they stayed very still because they knew the policemen would dearly love to have them break and run, and they knew the fingers were stroking the triggers. The report on the plates came back to the sergeant’s earpiece and the handcuffs clicked on Eammon Dalton and Fran Forde’s wrists. They were hustled to the dark interior of the police landrover.
For these two Volunteers, the war was over, for some years at least.”
Reproduced with permission of Curtis Brown Group Ltd, London (World excluding UK, Commenwealth and Canada)
Reproduced by permission of the publisher Hodder and Stoughton Limited (UK and Commonwealth)
on behalf of Gerald Seymour
Copyright © Gerald Seymour 1985
“The strongest of the international suspense stories are diminished when they are cubbyholed in bookstores or in book reviews simply as mysteries or thrillers. Even the modern master of the genre, Graham Greene, once had a problem with classification. He labeled seven of his own books - including The Third Man and Our Man in Havana - ‘entertainments,’ as if to tell the reader that these titles did not carry the full weight of his seriousness. Of course, they did; a fine writer cannot help doing his best, even when his subjects are designed to entertain. In recent years, Mr. Greene himself recognized this. Now he lists his ‘entertainments,’ along with such books as The Power and the Glory and The Comedians, simply as novels.
In the field of the suspense novel (or, rather, just plain novel), the three British masters - Mr. Greene, Eric Ambler and John le Carre -have been joined in the last decade by a fourth - Gerald Seymour. Field of Blood, his eighth novel, is as good as his first and best-known one, Harry’s Game. In fact, it says something about Mr. Seymour’s prescience that what he wrote about 10 years ago still rings true, fictionally, in his latest book. In both, the scene is Belfast; once again, the heroes and villains are almost indistinguishable. There is no Yeatsian ‘terrible beauty’ in this novel. Field of Blood offers only the terrible reality faced by the Protestant and Catholic militants in Ulster: unending urban guerrilla warfare.
This is a territory that Mr. Seymour has carved out for himself in such previous novels as The Glory Boys, Kingfisher and The Contract. He writes about terrorists, hijackings, assassinations and political dreamers in the Middle East, Italy, England and Northern Ireland. These are regions he has covered as a former British television correspondent, but Mr. Seymour is not just rewriting old assignments. He has broken out of the journalistic strictures and created situations and characters from the inside out. His emotional landscapes are painted in hard-edged human colors.
In addition to urban warfare, a Seymour fan always looks for certain hallmarks in his writing. His knowledge of weapons, police and secret service organizations lends authenticity. I suspect that he could field-strip a Kalishnikov automatic rifle and read the instrument panel of a helicopter gunship. In Field of Blood, the hidden weapons are part of the story. There are M-1 carbines, Remington M-742’s, Armalites, Lugers and even a hand-held rocket launcher that figures in the plot. A character in his novel reflects, “Weapons were Belfast”.
Then, too, Mr. Seymour’s novels usually build toward a cinematic climax. (Sometimes they seem a bit too cinematic.) In his last novel, In Honor Bound, a British agent armed with a ground-to-air missile launcher took on a Soviet MIG helicopter in the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan, followed by a “walkdown” between friend and foe that had a ‘High Noon’ air about it. In the new novel, there is a much more believable climax because, in Belfast, nobody emerges as victor. Another hallmark of a Seymour novel is that the female characters are not just adjuncts to the main action but very much a part of it. Few male writers take the time, or have the ability, to give the women in suspense novels lives of their own. Two important roles in the new novel are played by women - the wife and the mother of an imprisoned member of the Provisional IRA.
The story of Field of Blood has some of the same elements - including the interrogation of a Provo prisoner by his captor - as the British drama “Rat in the Skull, which recently played at the Public Theater. At the novel’s center is a confrontation between the IRA gunman and a British lieutenant. A trusting relationship develops between them; both are stuck in their duty to conflicting ideals. Behind them are the powerful forces - state, religious and military - that refuse to live and let live and that have bloodied the British and the Irish in Northern Ireland. Both men, courageous in their own ways, bear the burden of the long troubles. The Provo prisoner thinks to himself: ‘‘But a man who had blinded a Brit and taken out a constable could hardly cuff his son on the ear if the kid wanted to follow his father into the Organization.’’ So terror and death are passed on from one generation to the next.
There is a wonderful scene that evokes Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher without once mentioning her name or even revealing to the reader that the P.M. is a woman. The author writes: “The Prime Minister came at Christmas to be photographed with the troops, particularly enjoyed being photographed while wearing a Marine beret or a flak jacket.” When necessary, he can be subtle.
In Field of Blood, Mr. Seymour proves - as Graham Greene did on another battlefield half a world away in his Vietnam novel, ‘‘The Quiet American’’ - that the international suspense story can convey the harshest truths about a country’s crises through fictional characters who become all too real.”
New York Times August 2, 1985
Curtis Brown Group Ltd, London (World excluding UK, Commenwealth and Canada)
Hodder and Stoughton Limited (UK and Commonwealth)
TYPE OF PUBLICATION