The Sirius Crossing by John Creed
This is an intelligent spy thriller set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s, with a bit of globe trotting thrown in for good measure. The Sirius Crossing is well writing and hugely entertaining. From the first page I was gripped by the dark mood and cynical edge to the storytelling; it’s hard, brutal and very real world. A story that has a satisfyingly complex plot and real depth of character but also plenty of page turning action.
Jack friend Liam says the living have a duty to the dead, for Valentine it’s a duty to the truth. A quarter of a century after it happened ex-air force lieutenant Harry Longworth gave Valentine a vital piece of the puzzle which helped him assemble the full story. Longworth didn’t know the significance of his information but he knew it what happened was ‘odd’:
Bishopsway Air Support Base, northern England, February, 1974. Longworth is ordered to collect two US servicemen from the clandestine night-time landing of a C-130, then babysit them for a few hours. The Hercules is back in the air as soon as the men are deposited with Longworth. His instructions are to keep the men isolated and hidden until they leave, neither man has any insignia or rank on their uniform. After two hours Longworth drives the men to another plane that has come for them. Without a word the men leave and Longworth’s part is over. Eighty minutes later the two men parachute near Dundalk Bay but the weather conditions are bad and the drop turns into a disaster. The first man is killed before he hits the ground, his partner is badly injured. The second man manages to bury the body of his colleague before heading to the border and into the north.
- The MRU tends to fly under the radar, it isn’t subject to the same scrutiny from politicians as MI5/6 as the Cold War comes to an end. Jack Valentine is tired, about ready to retire, but he’ll take one more job with the promise it’s the last. He works for Somerville:
‘The tag of old-fashioned to the point of being quaint would describe Somerville if you regarded Torquemada as old-fashioned and Vlad the Impaler as quaint.’
Fair warning, the MRU is deep and dirty. Somerville’s deputy Curley is believed to be the man who perfected the CTT, (carcinogenic transmission technique). A grain of uranium in a cigar and max. three months later death by cancer – an untraceable assassination. Somerville has an unusual mission for Valentine, retrieve the documents and equipment with a long buried body in the Ravensdale forest just south of the border in the Republic of Ireland. Key instruction – bring back the package with the papers unread. Somerville says it was a failed op in the early 70s, there were two men, one survived lived long enough to give a rough location for the other’s body but then died. It should be one night’s work, just four ancient stone burial chambers to search. Valentine takes the job:
‘What I should really have done was reach into my shoulder holster, take out the Glock and empty it into his desiccated, evil old body. I know that now. And some part of me knew it then.’
Valentine can’t help wondering why he’s being sent, British soldiers operate south of the border all the time, and why now, what is so urgent about this operation?
Returning to his home in Kintyre Valentine finds his old friend Liam Mellows waiting for him. Theirs is an old friendship that has survived the two men being on different sides of the divide in Ireland. Mellows is in trouble, he’s been set up by Army Intelligence or C3 or MI5, who knows. His IRA colleagues have seen a photo of Mellows in the company of no less than the head of Special Branch border operations, Ronnie Whitcroft. Now old pals Canning and Marks are looking for Liam mellows the traitor. As Valentine and Mellows are discussing the situation a car approaches, in this remote location that can’t be good. Valentine and Mellows just about escape in his boat with shot fizzing around them…
They sail for Ireland; Liam Mellows has his problems to sort while Jack Valentine has his mission, only there are other parties interested in the body he is searching for. This is a tense, murky thriller, never less than intriguing. The Sirius Crossing is a shady world of betrayal and violence where you can’t trust your own side and the good guys are scarce on the ground. A worthy addition to the canon of Troubles thrillers.
There are two more Jack Valentine books which I’ve already ordered after reading this novel; The Day of the Dead and Black Cat Black Dog. John Creed is a pen name of Eoin McNamee author of several novels set in Northern Ireland with a basis in historical events and characters. The Vogue, The Resurrection Men, Orchid Blue, Blue is the Night, The Ultras (not a complete list). Eoin also writes for TV and writes children’s books.
Faber and Faber, paperback, 2003.