I must have a thing for betrayal books. Two books I’ve recently granted DIK status – Rightfully His and Prospect Street – have explored themes of betrayal. There is something extremely affecting about the feelings dredged up from this type of situation. Jeanette Baker does a fine job of exploring these feelings, and by setting her book Blood Roses amongst the turmoil that is Northern Ireland, she illustrates her betrayal theme in multiple ways.
Kate Nolan has been a widow for six long years. Her husband, Patrick, a lawyer who defended his fellow Catholics against the oppressive British regime, was assassinated in front of Kate and her children. Time has passed, but she is still not over grieving him and mourning the loss of his sustaining love. Her daughter, Deirdre is doing fairly well in university, but her son Kevin is slowly withdrawing, and Kate doesn’t know what to do to reach him and pull him out of his sullen, uncooperative attitude. When Kate gets a call telling her that Kevin’s been arrested on the suspicion of selling drugs, she feels like she’s reached the end of her rope.
Neil Anderson, chief criminologist for British Special Services has been charged with the duty of ridding Northern Ireland of its recently burgeoning drug trade and ferreting out smuggled and hidden weapons. When Kevin Nolan, son of the well-known, beloved martyr Patrick Nolan, stumbles into trouble, Neil doesn’t hesitate to use him as an informant. He puts the squeeze on Kevin to comply, knowing very well that it might cost Kevin his life.
Complicating matters is the fact that Neil is very drawn to Kate. She intrigues him with her strength, her directness, and her loveliness. Peace in Northern Ireland hangs by a thread, and Neil knows that he would be wise to ignore his feelings for Kate, especially given her position as ombudsman to the civilian police council. Still, he can’t seem to help falling for her. But when Kate finds out who exactly has put Kevin in danger, Neil knows everything is going to come crashing down around him.
I hate to say more about the plot of this book because the theme of betrayal runs through it in numerous ways, and to say more might ruin some of the impact of the story. Baker does a good job of conveying the particulars of the very complicated history of Northern Ireland. She manages to illustrate simply and clearly the problems between Catholic and Protestant, between the powerful and the powerless, between the fanatical pro-violence groups and the peace seekers. All of this was quite interesting and educational, but also very sad. The tone of the book is hopeful, but a number of heartbreaking situations are presented, and not all of them have a happy ending.
Kate is easy to like, but somewhat naïve. Occasionally, she borders on saint-like. Numerous characters make this observation about her. She has soldiered on in her work for peace, despite her personal tragedy. She is generous to a fault, always making time for others and doing what she has to do in order to make sure her family’s needs are met. She would have been a slightly more interesting character had she not been quite so saintly and self-sacrificing.
Her relationship with Neil is not the focus of the story, but it is well done. As the story progresses, their relationship changes along with certain actions and revelations. Neil is a good guy who wants to make an impact over the long run. He feels guilty about using Kate’s son to accomplish his goals, and he feels bad about everything she is going through, but his attitude is, in many ways, “the end justifies the means.” This ruthlessness made him interesting, but not nearly as lovable as Kate. One thing that was off-putting about Neil was the fact that he had a teenage daughter living in England whom he seldom saw. He wasn’t a deadbeat dad exactly, but one certainly couldn’t call him involved. He had better relations with Kate’s child than he did with his own.
The scenes with Kevin were done very convincingly. His anger and alienation seemed realistic and understandable. There was also a small secondary plot involving Kate’s daughter and a Protestant boy who would like to date her. This was also well written and affecting.
Blood Roses was a good, solid, and touching but frustrating read. Touching because all of the characters were survivors and determined to make something of themselves regardless of past tragedy. Frustrating because the story revealed so much of the bigotry, hatred, and evil that still exists between human beings in our modern world. This is a good book to read if you want to churn up your emotions and really feel. I’ve never read Jeanette Baker before, but I’m glad I decided to try her.