BOOK CLUB: The Good Mother

The Good Mother is the first novel by Rae Cairns. It draws on her experiences as a Youth Worker in Northern Ireland during the final years of the conflict, which while not a religious war, was waged along religious lines between the Catholics and the Protestants, a period known as The Troubles.

For those not familiar with, or too young to remember, The Troubles ran in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s through to around 1998 and related to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.  The Unionists (mainly Ulster Protestants) wanted Northern Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom, the Irish Nationalists (mainly Irish Catholics) wanted Northern Ireland to cease being a part of the United Kingdom and become part of a United Ireland.

Both sides developed paramilitaries, the Catholics formed the IRA (Provisional Irish Republican Army) and the INLA (Irish National Liberation Army), while the Unionists formed the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) and UDA (Ulster Defence Association).

The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was perceived to discriminate against the minority Catholics, and the deployment of British Troops to address the escalating tensions between the two sides—while initially welcomed by the minority Catholics—fanned the flames after the event known as Bloody Sunday.

After the ceasefire and peace negotiations were concluded, a group of dissident members of the provisional IRA who disagreed with the end to the conflict broke away to form the Real IRA (RIRA).  In 2012 the Real IRA, Republication Action Against Drugs and some small independent groups came together to form the New IRA, a group dealing out killings, gun and bomb attacks as well as “punishment” beatings and shootings.

This then is the background against which Cairns’ beautifully written book is set.

Sarah Calhoun lives in Sydney Australia, with daughters Sophie, eight, and Ally, twelve, and 16-year-old son Riley, as well as their labrador puppy Fudge.  Despite being divorced from the children’s lawyer father Evan Barker, she has remained friends with him and his new wife Felicity, and they have successfully shared the care of their children.

Riley is a skilled and dedicated youth soccer player. When he is selected as one of only two players from Australia to join the FIFA youth development camp in Dublin Ireland, what should be a time for celebration instead pours ice into Sarah’s heart and brings all her deep-seated fears to the fore.

Sarah has never spoken of her time in Northern Ireland as a youth worker, and what she experienced while there.  Neither has she opened up about her reasons for fleeing the country, or her fears of what may happen if she or any member of her family were to return there.  Instead, she has tried to wrap her family in cotton wool and gone to great lengths to protect them.

Despite the fears swirling through her brain, Sarah decides she can’t stand in the way of something so important to Riley, and so, reluctantly, she decides to sign the paperwork giving him permission to go,

Then, just a month into Riley’s four month stint in Ireland, Sarah’s world begins to crack with the unexpected arrival at her office of Detective Inspector Alec Stone of the Northern Ireland Organised Crime Task Force, a branch of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (previously the Royal Ulster Constabulary—the RUC). 

Stone tells her that he is investigating the murder of Gerry McCann, a young man she was the youth worker for while in Ireland, that she was flagged as a person of interest when she fled Nothern Ireland on the night of Gerry’s death, that he was aware at that time that she was engaged to Michael McNaulty, and Michael and his brother Daniel are the prime suspects for Gerry’s murder. He tells her he tracked her down when Riley went through Customs in Dublin and her name as next of kin red-flagged. 

Then things begin to spiral out of control, first, a Facebook friend request from Daniel McNaughlty, then a huge bunch of red and white roses is delivered to her office, no name but the envelope attached contains a plane ticket in her name to Belfast next week, and a message ‘we need to talk’ and then a man with a West Belfast accent breaks into her house to deliver a message from Daniel checking that she’ll be on the plane to Belfast while implying her children’s safety depended on it.

Sarah finds herself drawn into a web of horror as her past, present and future collide and she tries to protect her children whilst facing the full force of the Real IRA, now headed by Daniel McNaulty, the man Detective Stone is committed to taking down.

This is a powerfully written book that I could not put down (and literally read into the wee hours of the morning).  The characters are entirely believable, in the case of Daniel McNaulty frighteningly so, the Troubles accurately portrayed, as is the dilemma experienced by Sarah as she tries to work out how to deal with the situation in which she is embroiled, how to get Riley away from Ireland safely, all the while not knowing who to trust—yet knowing that one wrong move on her part could end in widespread tragedy. 

Thank you to Beauty and Lace and Rae Cairns for giving me the opportunity to read and review this wonderful debut novel, The Good Mother.  I look forward to reading Cairns’ future works.  Highly recommended 5 Stars.

ISBN: 978 0648 999508

Copy courtesy of Rae Cairns trading as Bandrui Publishing

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading The Good Mother by Rae Cairns. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

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