Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Review of Echoland by Joe Joyce (Liberties Press, 2013)
Set in 1940, Echoland is set during a fascinating period of contemporary Irish history as it the country tries to negotiate its neutral role and its relationship to Britain and Germany. Joyce weaves an interesting plot involving G2 (military intelligence) and Special Branch as they keep tabs on the German legation, suspected German spies, and the IRA, who view the war as an opportunity to leverage a united Ireland. The plot is the strength of the novel, nicely intersecting two storylines – the hunt for a German spy and trying to trace the whereabouts of a politician’s missing daughter. Joyce’s storytelling is all tell and no show, detailing the action and dialogue of the main characters. Whilst this worked to a degree, the lack of reflection and historicisation rendered some of the story flat and lacking in atmosphere and tension and the characters one dimensional. For example, the reader is presented with lists of streets that the characters traverse, but very little description of them or the activities taking place, or the general mood of the populace or how the war was affecting them. Nor is there a wider sense of the lead up to Ireland’s political position at the time. There is practically no back story with respect to any character, with the lead character being curiously asexual, apolitical and naive, and at the end of the book I felt I knew as much about him as I did at the start. The result was a book carried by its plot, but one that lacked the atmosphere, depth and subtle tension evident in similar kinds of Second World War espionage tales such as those by Alan Furst, David Downing, Aly Monroe or Joseph Kanon (a selection here). Nevertheless, an enjoyable and interesting tale and I'd read the next instalment if it Echoland is the first in a series.