Childhood friendships strained by enforced absence and a broken promise, the limits of personal loyalty, a cat and mouse chase with a bitter nemesis and the impact of war are the key elements in Ciarán McMenamin's latest novel.
Francie Leonard is a living contradiction, a Catholic who fought for Britain in the 36th Ulster Division on the fields of France. A man who, within six years, was fighting against the Empire with the IRA on the newly created Irish border. He is being hunted with ferocity by his former commanding officer Crozier, now leading a force of The Specials.
Alternating between the battlefields of France during World War 1 and the Irish border in 1922, The Sunken Road is a book built on a foundation of friendship. We meet the childhood Francie, his companion Archie and Archie’s sister Annie.
They are an inseparable trio until the desire for adventure takes the boys to war. Francie returns to a different Ireland, a wanted man, one whose relationship with Annie has been fractured by the yet to be revealed details of the intervening years. Despite the perceived betrayal, she becomes Francie’s accomplice, as he tries to evade those seeking him out.
The battlefields of the First World War have provided plentiful inspiration for many books over decades. The Sunken Road joins the ranks of those which have succeeded in building a vivid picture of the life lived and turmoil experienced by those who survived it. The passages set in the present day of 1922 would leave you wondering why more quality fiction has not been born out of an equally turbulent and the complicated period in Irish history.
McMenamin develops strong characters and compellingly using the books’ interchanging structure to build the increasing tension. Aside from Francie and the villainous Crozier and their cat and mouse chase of May 1922, the narrative delves into the roots of the events which led to the breakdown of Francie and Annie’s lifelong connection. The tale leaves you uncertain about the fate of the participants until the final pages.