Witnesses - Killing Streets #1
Out of the ashes of sixty-nine arises a hero, but Tim Regan is not the hero you expect. All heroes' true tests are in their inner world, and Tim's feat is to somehow remain a teenager amidst the horror of early seventies Belfast. He struggles daily to keep his youth separate from The Troubles, but in a war like this; everything and everybody is entangled, and Tim's struggles increase until something must break. But what is it that breaks? Not his rightful measure of innocence, and not his dedication to The Cause.
But it is because this is no romanticised version of recent Irish history, that this book is so powerful.
Laid out before us is the sheer brutality and evil of some of the Provisional IRA, their entanglement with the Special Branch and MI5, and details of how the systems and structures put in place by IRA command, accidentally paved the way for crooks and psychopaths to take over the army, and manipulate The Cause to their own ends.
The fact that Larkin has been able to retain the essential innocence of his main character, Tim's teenage years, in the midst of this horror, is a testament to his writing skills, and to the resilience of humanity.
For here we have a boy who fights for a cause while knowing that the very organisation he has joined is riddled with corrupt and traitorous imposters. And while fighting against corruption from the inside, and the British State on the streets of Belfast, Regan managing to take on a seemingly ordinary journey through the highs and lows of the early seventies, through the disco's and unrequited love. The fumbling sex, the banter, and the squabbles of youth.
The fact that Larkin pulls this off shows some breath-taking skill.
This book is A Tree Grows in Brooklynby a writer who must have lived this life or at least had access to someone who did. Many of the details are such, that no-one could invent them. There's no doubting that Larkin has come from a far darker place than some, and how he got to here, astounding.
It is therefore uplifting that Tim Regan survives his ordeal, (I hope he does, having not yet read the third book of The Killing Streets Series), but it is even more uplifting that Larkin himself has survived the ordeal and gone on to become a brilliant writer, a schennachie, which is the highest praise of all in Celtic culture. Tiocfaidh ar la, means our day will come in Irish. Larkin's day has come.
Finally, any last vestiges of romance for the Provisional IRA will be challenged when you read his Books, because what makes Larkin's Books different from all the literature of the troubles is that it isn't just a report of what someone's involvement was. He has made art from it, and in doing so, told a deeper truth.
I'm from an Irish Catholic storytelling background and can see this in Larkin's work, and how he jives along telling the story, and Maggie Doyle; what a tragic character.
The story between her and Tim Regan is what I would shoot if it was a movie, and probably from Maggie Doyle's point of view.
Larkin also provides a soundtrack by naming each chapter after a song from that tight period. I'd forgotten just how good some early seventies music was, and a quick click on Youtube will draw you down deep into his world. The Song Titles for the Chapters takes me back to the 1970s; Everything about that culture was replicated in Coatbridge, except the horrors.
The young girl who has the sight; the superstition below the religion, the family yarns. I could have been in my grannies.
I think it's only a matter of time until a mainstream publisher becomes interested.