In a novel set during Northern Ireland's war against British control, before a peace accord has been achieved, a young mother's world has been simply defined--the love of her son, Finn, the center of her universe. She spends glorious days in her small cottage by the sea, works as a news programmer for the BBC in Belfast, and shares off-hours with her mother and her paramedic sister, Marian.
Tessa leaves her cottage on a day like any other, weighed down with baby paraphernalia and the sweet heft of child. Planning the day ahead at the BBC, she spares a few seconds imagining Marian's short holiday swimming in the icy water of one of their favorite rustic spots. It is a good day. Tessa drops Finn at his caregiver's along the way, arriving at work soon after. She is in the midst of a programming discussion when the TV blares the latest news: an IRA robbery. Marian's face appears on the screen. She is one of the robbers.
In that instant, everything changes. Tessa is stunned, unable to fathom how her relationship with Marian can be salvaged. Her once-secure home, where so many happy hours have been spent with Finn and Marian, is no longer a haven. Worst of all is her sister's betrayal: the years of lies about her work as a paramedic and the jeopardy Marian has brought into their lives as an agent of the IRA. Tessa's private, contented existence is destroyed, her identity now tied to political conflict and violence. Their deep family ties draw both Tessa and Finn into the vortex of chaos that permeates every aspect of life in the IRA, the random attacks, the bombings, the constant suspicion of traitors and spies.
Marian's actions have forced a family breach, plunging them into another, painfully foreign world. Tessa is caught between rage and fear, anger at her sister's impulsiveness, and concern for her safety. The easy security, the joyful oblivion Tessa has found with Finn, is shattered into a million pieces, poisoning every assumption, every decision. Her choices have been whittled into few, none acceptable, all of them potentially fatal.
It is a story about war. Years of conflict have created a simmering, pervasive enmity between opposing factions. The carefree, open-hearted Tessa is suddenly exposed to the unknown, confronting the inevitable tangles of family loyalties, evading the secret network Marian has become a part of, an innocent trapped among the guilty. Tessa's fear for Marian is unbearable, their lifetime bond deeper than the rage and disappointment of Marian's actions. Her love for Finn all-consuming, Tessa clings to his warm little body, his shouts of discovery, and demands for food.
It is also a story about family, the relationships of a mother, two daughters, and a child adored by each. This bond is at the heart of Berry's thriller, a choice by one affecting them all. The dimension of these familial ties is exquisitely rendered, Finn the emotional core, the constant reminder of what is at stake. Again and again, a distraught Tessa finds respite in the small rituals of motherhood, her fury with Marian constantly tempered with forgiveness.
The war-ravaged country assumes the role of another character. Men disappear into battle, a fitting backdrop for Belfast's brutal beauty, its lush extremes, the seeds of peace scattered across a war-scarred landscape. The women tend the hearth and provide comfort, nurturing, rising up, fierce in protecting what is most precious. Love is stronger than fear, surrounding a small child with the rising and setting sun in his tiny hands. This is their story.