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Book Review

The Polish Week by Marcus MacDonald

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Publisher: Portia Publishing, paperback

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Marcus MacDonald has a long pedigree as a writer of thoughtful, perceptive fiction. In 1993 he was shortlisted for a Tribune Hennessy Award. More recently he was long-listed for the 2012 Powers Short Story competition.

Now comes the veteran writer's 282-page debut novel, which is taut with tension, in a similar fashion to Frederick Forsyth's 1971 novel The Day of The Jackal. That celebrated novel concerned a professional assassin who is contracted by a French dissident paramilitary organization, to kill Charles de Gaulle, the President of France.

Macdonald's compelling and thoughtful story is set over the course of a year between February 1981 and January 1982, in a vareity of locations. Much of the narrative is set in Warsaw, but action also taks place in Mi5 HQ in Croydon and other London locations.

During the time period of the novel, General Jaruzelski was elected premier on Februray 1981. He became first secretary of the party the following October, while retaining his post as minister of defense. In an effort to crush the Solidarity movement and restore economic stability, he declared martial law in Poland on December 13, 1981, a move which was accompanied by mass arrests of Solidarity leaders and political dissidents.

As the novel begins, Solidarnosc, the Solidarity movement under the charismatic Lech Walesa is putting General Jaruzelski's inept leadership under significant pressure. Root and branch reform of the Polish Communist party is being vociferously sought.

The world is beginning to sit up and take notice of this curious marriage of workers and intellectuals and Poland is in a dilemma. Massing at the borders with Russia, as the author writes in the prologue, is "the churning might of Soviet armour . . waiting to impose direct rule from Moscow."

MacDonald's skillfully-executed thriller describes the plan to kill a Polish government minister while on a visit to Thatcher's Britain to attend a classical concert. Both sides in the Cold War refuse to thaw, this blast of musical goodwill is intended to melt, however temporarily, the glacial realities and cold-eyed confrontations of the early Eighties. For a student wishing to get a vivid convincing portrait of that time - some eight years before the fall of the Berlin Wall - this novel is just the ticket.

The author was once a music producer at RTÉ who worked closely with the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra. So he has closely observed - and included here - the fraught business of rehearsals, the soul-searchings and occasional tantrum, the collective struggle of musicians seeking ultimately to play as one. The conductor Komorski and the intense, cigarette-smoking pianist Maria Wohlicka are particularly convincing portrayals as the fateful performance draws ever nearer.

Meanwhile, MI5 agent David Brenton works frantically to find out who is masterminding the conspiracy to kill the minister. Will he succeed in his efforts and save Britain from a potentially lethal outcome should Her Majesty's Polish guest be shot dead? The novel is also available for download.

Paddy Kehoe

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