Written by John Gordon Sinclair – Scottish actor John Gordon Sinclair is probably best known for his role as Gregory in the 1981 film Gregory’s Girl, or perhaps Ivar the Boneless in Erik the Viking, directed by Terry Jones. However, in September this year he made his crime writing debut with a novel that takes a look at one devastating event in the life of a family and the knock-on effects it continues to have several years later.
Seventy Times Seven centres on the story of two Irish brothers – Sean and Danny McGuire. When Sean is killed in an ambush Danny is left feeling a deep seated need for revenge. He’s drawn towards the republican movement, but despite invitations to join them he is more resistant to being a paid up member than his older brother was. Instead he chooses to become a hired assassin, and is not averse to doing the odd job for the local IRA commander EI O’Leary, aka The Farmer.
It’s Holy Week 1992, and a very important list has been stolen from the Royal Ulster Constabulary’s HQ which could put some high-profile snouts in a whole lot of danger. Among them, the IRA’s ultimate target, the Threvshi, aka the Ghost. He has given away a lot of their secrets, and is now living under an assumed identity – Finn O’Hanlon – in the USA. For Danny this news turns into a real headache when a ghost from his past turns up and tells him that O’Hanlon knows the identity of the man responsible for his brother’s death. The only problem is EI O’Leary has tasked Danny with O’Hanlon’s execution as a traitor to the cause.
In Alabama, O’Hanlon knows that the clock has started ticking when there’s a bungled attempt to kill him in a bar. Danny must get to him before anyone else does, but when the two men meet it becomes clear that this is only the start of a chain of events that only they can stop, and there are going to be casualties. The question is: will Danny be able to carry out his orders once he knows the truth?
When I first started reading this book, I didn’t quite know what to expect, probably because like many other readers I associate John Gordon Sinclair with comedy rather than crime. Given the subject matter of his first book, this was going to be quite some departure. Having said that, there are elements of humour in the dialogue that do make you smile with a hint of Sinclair himself coming through. Another key ingredient to this story – it never loses its humanity. Despite the fact that Finn and Danny are both killers, they do feel a sense of responsibility towards those who are unwittingly dragged into their battles. You can’t help liking them both. It’s a novel that highlights the harsh realities of the Troubles and how they affected ordinary people’s lives, and it’s not pretty.
It’s a strong debut which clearly demonstrates that Sinclair chose wisely when he opted for the crime fiction genre. My only bone of contention – maybe it’s just me – but there is a slightly confusing ending to what is ultimately, a book well worth reading. At the moment, it’s great value on Kindle at only £1.19.
Faber and Faber
CFL Rating: 4 Stars