Seventy Times Seven by John Gordon Sinclair.
I’m a bit late to the party on this one, Seventy Times Seven was published in 2012. I came across this recently researching a piece on the Troubles and crime writing and I’m glad I did. This is a really entertaining and very well written debut thriller, packed with page turning action and a healthy dose of grit. There’s plenty in the twisty plot to keep readers intrigued and there’s a decent laugh or two along the way. There’s also one brutal scene that really shocks and reminds us that actions have consequences, it’s not preachy just true to the real world and more poignant for that. The dialogue has the feel of the locale, whether it’s Newry or Alabama as the story moves across the Atlantic and back. It wasn’t what I was expecting. Those of a certain age will remember Sinclair as a comic actor particularly good at amiable roles, Gregory’s Girl practically made him a household name in 1981. The sleeve notes for this thriller don’t mention Sinclair’s acting, probably because his light hearted performances don’t quite chime with this hard edged thriller, the two seeming incongruous. I admit I was sceptical but now I’m a believer in JG Sinclair the writer.
Newry, 1984. The girl stares out into the street, she suddenly calls her Da over, there’s a young man dragging a coffin up the street oozing liquid, blood? The young man looks over at their window and Joe Fitzpatrick grabs his daughter’s arm and drags her away quickly.
Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 1992, 90° in the shade, inside McHales Bar. Vincent and Cola are loading up on booze, waiting for the target to show, Cola is volatile, Vincent wary of him. Finn O’Hanlon walks in for a beer, one beer, he doesn’t stay anywhere for long. He picks a table by the rear entrance with a clear sight of the bar and the main entrance. Finn knows they will come for him one day. Turns out they sent Cole and Vincent, while Vincent goes for the car Cola decides to act. He rises, heading for Finn, pointing his magnum, he starts blasting…
Newry, a couple of days earlier. Danny McGuire can’t believe it when he gets a call from Lep McFarlane. Danny thought Lep was dead, wanted Lep to be dead, but it turns out he was hiding out in a dark hole in Donegal for the last eight years. Everyone assumed that Lep informed the Brits when Danny’s brother Sean was blown to pieces in an ambush. The IRA will kill him on sight, Danny would too, but Lep wants to meet, he has info on a man who knows what happened to Sean that night. Lep thinks the Commander in Chief of the IRA, EI O’Leary, has given Danny the the job of killing Finn O’Hanlon, hiding out in the US because of the information from the Special Branch break-in. He warns Danny that Finn is the only one who can tell him what happened to Sean but Danny has no idea who Finn O’Hanlon is.
O’Leary just pulled off a coup, breaking into Special Branch and stealing the list of informants and a bonus file on Thevshi, the ghost, the IRAs most wanted. Special branch want to turn the town upsidedown of get the list back but MI5 say they should relax and let things develop, why?
Danny is a killer, when he sees O’Leary a few days later he gets the kill job in the states, a couple of local screw ups already blew it once. Danny’s brief is to find Finn O’Hanlon and kill him, and to do a deal for weapons while he’s there…
There’s plenty going on in this complex but very readable thriller. This is not a deeply reflective novel but there’s enough depth for it to feel realistic and set it above the usual all action thriller. Since writing this novel Sinclair has published Blood Whispers in 2015 and Walk in Silence 2018.
Faber & Faber, 9780571290628, hardback, 2012.

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