Regular readers will know by now that I’m a fan of historical fiction. This time round I was lucky enough to be offered a great book set in Northern Ireland. If this is an area that interests you and you prefer your historical fiction to be more recent, read on.
Belfast Central* by A.K. Amherst is set in 1993 when a nocturnal ambulance service at the Belfast Central Station almost turns deadly for young paramedic Ryan. In the crosshairs of the IRA, he is badly wounded and wakes up in the hospital with muddled memories. The police close the case fast, leaving too many burning questions unanswered. Most importantly, who was that old man who appeared at the scene out of nowhere and saved Ryan’s life? Not fully recovered yet, Ryan begins searching for the mysterious man, only to get dragged into a feud between opposing paramilitaries – with fatal consequences…
This book is absolutely fantastic. I really don’t know if I can do it justice with this review. It’s also still quite a sensitive topic and I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes so please call me out in the comments if I write anything deemed insensitive.
Firstly, I want to comment on how well researched Belfast Central is. I was shocked to discover that the author was in fact Austrian and had no ties to Northern Ireland, as far as I could see. Admittedly, I was just a little one in 1993 and I lived at the completely opposite end of the country but I really felt that she hit the nail on the head regarding how life was at the time.
I studied history and Irish politics in university, and I am Irish, so I have a fair idea of what went on during this time period. Still, the book didn’t seem repetitive in any way to me. I think this had to with the main character, Ryan. See, I’ve never read a book like this from a Protestant point of few and it was interesting to get an insight into things like the Orange Order and how Catholics were viewed. On the other hand, there were also chapters told from the point of view of Adam, a Catholic character, and I felt like overall, Amherst was able to flip well between the two viewpoints.
While on the topic of characters, I really enjoyed how they were placed well to show the animosity of the time. Yes, it was obvious with main characters like Ryan and Adam but minor characters played this role greatly too. Take for instance, Brother Reed, who was thrown out of the Orange Order for attending a Catholic christening. For me, this showed how petty this hatred between the two groups can be. Then we have Lena who brought more personal elements to the story and reminded us that life goes on beyond war and religion.
Finally, we have Amherst’s writing style, which was excellent in forging a real connection between the reader and characters. The short chapters kept the story flowing and made the unexpected turns in the story more thrilling. I went into Belfast Central thinking it would be a police drama but it was so much more. Also, this book does not romanticise war in any way. Scenes of death, especially children dying, shows the harsh reality of 1990’s Northern Ireland.
I really hope you will take the time to read Belfast Central. It has made its way into my top ten books for 2018 and I am sure it will be in yours too.
I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Author Bio: Born and raised in Austria, A.K. Amherst travelled the world from a young age. This influenced her writing, which relates to history and cultures of foreign countries. Intensive research is part of her job, and she really loves her job. You want to be taken into another setting and experience life from a different angle? Then Amherst is the writer for you.