Review, £14.99

'Grace and Truth' opens with one woman's story and predominantly remains that, although the characters on the peripheries of Jennifer Johnston's latest novel appeal quite strongly to our sense of sympathy.

Set in Dublin, actress Sally's husband has just left her, rather abruptly, without so much as an explanation. Her crazy agent is screaming at her to tour with her current production of 'The Playboy of the Western World', of which Sally is absolutely sick to the teeth. The neighbour's kids are prone to smashing her windows with footballs. Her estranged husband's mother has taken to calling her up and verbally abusing her. And a heavy feeling of misplace has descended on her since her mother's tragic death, leaving her feeling pretty alone in the world.

Sally's stern, respected grandfather is really the only family that she has left, and his aloof behaviour doesn't exactly entice her to strike up a deep relationship with him. But the old man has something that Sally wants. That is the truth. It is something that has been avoided by her mother for all her life and now Sally finally resolves that she must get to the bottom of her history however she can, in order to feel some sense of completeness.

Sally has never known her father, and was always greeted with responses to the effect of "you have no father" when she inquired to her troubled mother. The subject was forbidden. But her hopes for a resolution to the mystery after her mother's death are dashed when her grandfather too remains tight-lipped. Aware that a heavy secret is burdening him, the same secret her mother took to the grave, Sally refuses to let go of her quest, regularly visiting the old man, with whom she had little contact growing up.

Eventually his burden becomes too much and the truth is revealed as author Johnston takes us back in time to relive the creation of the dark secret that binds the characters together. Religion, faith, deep love, heavy burdens of guilt - it's all in here. Added to the mix is an overwhelming sense of regret and the tracing of more than one troubled mind.

Johnston's style of writing pays perfect attention to detail as her story unwinds, aptly using the war in Iraq as a backdrop and often as a mirror for Sally's tattered heart. It would not be unfair to say that the tale itself is quite predictable as it develops and some light is eventually shed on what brought the characters to their current standpoint. But this strangely does not serve to detract from the reading pleasure of the book. Johnston has a great sense of real-life, the everyday and the extraordinary depth of bitter human emotion.

A fluently written account of a tortured soul begging to be set free and those who are resolute in their decision to hang onto the keys of truth.

Linda McGee