Cover image for Night crossing : a novel
Night crossing : a novel
Snyder, Don J.
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First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.
Physical Description:
277 pages ; 22 cm
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A novel of political intrigue (the time is 1998) with overtones of a classic Hitchcock thriller; a story of a romantic encounter--of two strangers suddenly invading each other's lives. Night Crossingcarries us from a quiet Boston suburb to a wild pursuit across the northern counties of Ireland. The man and woman who find themselves bound together are from two different worlds. Nora is an American, married, pregnant, leading the most ordinary middle-class life until, one day, she finds her husband in the arms of another woman--and explodes out of her house, out of Boston, headed for an Irish countryside she long ago fell in love with, intending to walk across the open green fields where she will decide how her life is to proceed. But on the way, waiting in a clinic in Northern Ireland, contemplating an abortion, she hears a woman screaming in the street. A mammoth bomb has exploded. Immediately, instinctively, Nora comes to the aid of a wounded man, a British soldier. And from that moment everything spirals out of control. Suddenly Nora is on the run, in the middle of someone else's nightmare--her pursuers are revealed as British Intelligence, and the anonymous wounded Brit as a man with a past, a personality, a direction, an importance, a name--and an adversary--of his own. What follows through eight terrifying days is a chase in the grand manner--his life in her hands, her life upended--culminating in a daring night crossing of the Irish Sea to Scotland and to the moment of truth.

Author Notes

Don J. Snyder is the author of "The Cliff Walk", "Of Time and Memory", "A Soldier's Disgrace", "From the Point" and "Veteran's Park".

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Snyder's return to fiction after writing two memoirs offers a look at the modern-day Troubles in Ireland from the deeply personal perspective of an American woman dealing with upheaval in her own life. Nora Andrews is 42 and pregnant, and her plan to interest her husband in the pregnancy and in their marriage with new lingerie and a trip to Ireland ends abruptly when she discovers that he is having an affair. She boards a plane to Ireland alone, where she promptly witnesses a terrorist bombing. Having seen too much, she is drawn into a British anti-IRA plot and is charged with the safekeeping of a wounded British soldier. Although this may all seem rather far-fetched, Snyder's detached writing style effectively conveys the hazy thought processes of an already unbalanced woman dealing with situations she never imagined possible. This is definitely more women's fiction (complete with burgeoning love interest) than thriller, and although it is not as tightly plotted, it will appeal to readers who enjoyed the depictions of emotional turmoil and international intrigue in Anita Shreve's The Pilot's Wife (1998). Carrie Bissey

Publisher's Weekly Review

In August of 1998, police in Omagh, a market town in Northern Ireland, received word that a bomb would go off near the courthouse. Saturday shoppers were herded away from the building, whereupon the bomb exploded in the area they had been moved to. An IRA terrorist splinter group comprising diehard nationalists opposed to the Good Friday ceasefire, calling itself the Real IRA, took responsibility for the bombing and the 29 resulting deaths. In his third novel, Snyder (also author of two memoirs, Of Time and Memory and The Cliff Walk) proposes an alternative hypothesis: that the bomb was planted and the false warning was deliberately given by renegade British operatives trying to turn the Irish against the IRA. Into their scheme wanders an American woman, 42-year-old Nora Andrews, who has fled to Ireland after discovering that she is pregnant and that her husband, Steven, is having an affair. When she na?vely lets drop that she saw a British soldier with an infant running away from the bomb site before the blast (thereby indicating that he knew what was going to happen), she sets in motion a manhunt for the soldier, the rescued mother and baby and for Nora herself all are valuable witnesses sought by both the British and the IRA. While on the run, Nora examines her marriage and the person she has become, and discovers new truths about her life. Reminiscent of the work of the late Brian Moore, with the addition of a climactic scene that could have come straight from Junger's The Perfect Storm, this competent albeit derivative and inflammatory thriller delivers some exciting moments as well as insights into the mind of a woman who slowly realizes her own complicity in the wreck of her marriage. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

For more than 20 years, Nora Andrews has lived within a safe suburban cocoon, but now that her children have left the nest, she finds herself facing the harsh reality of a failing marriage and loss of purpose. The pregnancy she hoped would restore both proves just another complication when she finds her husband in the arms of a much younger women. Meanwhile, James Blackburn has served as a British intelligence officer in Northern Ireland for 18 years, dedicating his life to what has come to seem a hopeless cause: bringing peace to that war torn land. Emotionally drained, he has come to believe that something drastic must be done to bring both Protestant and Catholic hardliners to their senses. On August 15, 1998 in Omagh, Northern Ireland, these two disparate lives are brought together amidst the flying debris of a horrific car bomb. Nora, in Ireland to find her bearings, notices James running away from what will soon become the bomb site with a baby in his arms. How did he know? This is a question a lot of people want answered and others want hidden. After innocently telling a priest what she saw, Nora and James find themselves on the run, but in the midst of the nightmare their lives are transformed. Theirs is a gripping, cinematic tale by the author of The Cliff Walk that can well be recommended for the general library audience. David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, FL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One August 1, 1998 . . . In the quiet harbor of Inishowen, which faced east to the Irish Sea, Captain James Oliver Blackburn stood on the bow of a sailing sloop waiting for the men from Group Four to arrive. After more than a year of American-brokered negotiations between the warring fac- tions in Northern Ireland, the chance for peace was in grave jeopardy. A drastic measure to save the Good Friday peace accords was to be set into motion this morning in a secret meeting of senior intelligence officers in the North Channel of the Irish Sea. Blackburn, an Englishman from Lancashire, was a tall, gangly man, forty-eight years old, narrow-waisted, with the thin, slightly bowed legs of a schoolboy. He had sideburns that would have been fashionable in another era, high cheekbones, and piercing blue eyes that were narrowed against the cold morning rain. It was the first of August, but in this remote part of Northern Ireland, summer had already begun to fade. Blackburn shivered, but not from the cold. What was going to take place in the next several hours would set in motion an atrocity that the civilized world, and God, and he himself would forever condemn. There would be no forgiveness. But he was a part of it now; there was no turning back. And what was worse?maybe this was what made him shiver?he was eager for it to happen. The alarm on his watch went off, he checked the time?seven?and just as the watch stopped beeping he looked out to the mouth of the harbor. In seconds he heard a motor off to the west. And then a corresponding sound to the south. He waited as the boats appeared. He checked his watch again: 7:03. If nothing else, we are precise, he thought. The boats were purposely unmatched, one a Grumman 34 trawler like those used by cod fishermen out of Portsmouth, the other a Keisling Fury, twenty-five feet along the waterline from bow to stern, with a two-ton keel. He knew that there were two snipers on board each boat, fore and aft, armed with Italian-made Carlino long-range rifles, silencers screwed into the barrels, their scopes fitted with infrared filters for night vision. The skippers of both boats, men who would not be identifiable by either the British government or the IRA if they were caught, had been smuggled into the country three days earlier. They had traveled from Rome under false French passports, and Blackburn himself had sailed them here from Stranraer, Scotland. During the meeting this morning they would be in constant voice communication, via satellite, with Carl Landry in an unmarked office at the rear of a record shop on Bathe Street in Belfast. Landry was a good man, brought up through the ranks of counterespionage by the Thatcher administration. His obsessive personality made him perfect for this operation. He couldn't leave his office at the end of a day without straightening the Oriental rug in front of the tall windows that looked down on Bridge Street and lining up the pencils on his desk in ascending lengths. Sixteen years ago, Landry had been stationed at Dublin Castle, and on occasion Blackburn had been his doubles partner in agency badminton tournaments. Those were the dark days of the Irish Troubles, when it seemed a passageway to peace would never be found. Peace, Blackburn thought. He had imagined it luxuriously and hungered for it the way a man hungers for a woman's touch. And in the last year it was finally there, in the wind and in whispers. To Blackburn it felt like a vindication of everything he had believed in from the time when he had volunteered before his twentieth birthday for transfer from his first post in the ranks of the Royal Guard on Downing Street to the Special Services in Northern Ireland. How odd, he thought, how terribly odd, that now, in order to have the peace at last, he would betray the British government he honored and the army he had pledged himself to. Watching the observation boats take their final positions, Blackburn plotted the course he would sail this morning. A westward tack to clear the mouth of the harbor and then a broad reach into the channel. In the harbor the water was as still as a mill pond, but half a mile from shore there was already a light chop, which he knew would build through the morning. Calm on the Irish Sea was virtually nonexistent, but the sloop he was skippering today had a high freeboard and plenty of weight underneath to hold her steady in rough seas. In Blackburn's mind she was as safe as a church pew, but the three officers joining him?Paul Norney, former head of Ways and Means for Internal Operations in Winchester, England; Nelson Orr, allocations specialist trained at the observatory in Portsmouth; and Timothy Nichols, communications chief of the Wolfe Council twenty-five years ago when headquarters were in Churchill's old war office?were landlocked fellows who'd never had salt water up their noses. If it got too rough, he would take down the mainsail and put up the storm jib to keep the boat from heeling over, and the three of them from throwing up. After checking his watch once more, he fiddled with both halyards and loosened the bowline so that when the others arrived they could pull out of the harbor as quickly as possible. When he was satisfied, he stood up and, out of habit, tapped his shirt pocket with his right hand for the cigarettes he had quit smoking ten months earlier. It would have been nice, he thought, to light up in this dismal rain and take a deep drag. He walked to the stern and glanced at the shore, where residents were beginning to appear in the village under dark umbrellas. He saw a red telephone booth, a white church steeple, and piles of granite blocks from an old dock that had washed out decades ago in a winter storm. He took in these details thoughtlessly, and then as he was searching for signs of anything unusual he noted a woman hanging wash on a line in the garden of a newly painted cottage. Her laundry consisted of small articles of clothing, small enough to be doll's clothes, Blackburn thought, and he assumed that she had a baby in her midst. A smile spread across his face. He had been with the British Army in Northern Ireland his entire adult life, and the sight of this young mother reminded him of his early days here when he had first been struck by the beauty of the Irish women. Not the physical beauty so much, though that was appreciable, but the brilliant light of their spirit and the music in their voices. Here was a population of women who held on to a desire that the contemporary world had declared unfashionable, the desire to have one baby after another and to spend their days at home with them. Something in this had appealed to Blackburn's sense of promise and order and filled him with hope. And there was also the romantic readiness of the Irish women and the persistent optimism even in the face of hardship and loss. A young mother hanging out her family's laundry in the morning rain symbolized for the captain the patience that was so steadfast in this country's women. He watched her until she had finished and disappeared inside the cottage. When he saw a light go on in an upstairs room, the baby's room perhaps, he told himself that it was the ordinary and plain acts in a life that convey the dignity of our intentions and mark our presence with holiness. This holiness was what he had poured his life into protecting; he had given himself so completely to the task that he had missed out on the chance for a wife and children of his own, but sometime after he turned forty he grimly accepted it as his destiny and began burying himself even deeper in the work to bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict here. Today it seemed to him that he had always known that never very far from the restorative routines and the comforting symmetry of mornings like this was the brutal violence that had destroyed those things in the thirty years of troubles in this country?pubs and cottages blown to bits, lights in children's rooms put out forever, dreams ripped apart by the awful killing. Long after she had gone inside the cottage, Blackburn was still wishing he could have stood beside her for a moment and told her that soon he would meet the three men who had secretly helped him plot the last remaining way to save the fragile peace process. The last chance to bring Protestants and Catholics together, guaranteeing a new political order in the country, which would include representation by Unionists and Republicans. Here it is, he would tell her, a recompense to the Irish people for all they have suffered. He allowed himself one last glance at the faintly lit room. Didn't that room hold all that a man needs in the world? Shelter from the cold. A woman to love. A child to be remem- bered by. Unless the man is at war, he told himself. That thought was lingering in his mind when the car arrived and the three men made their way down the dock toward the sloop. As part of the deception, their car was a junker and they themselves were camouflaged in the clothing of local fishermen. Blackburn was just beginning to settle into the steely demeanor he had always brought to covert operations when suddenly he saw the same demeanor in the three men making their way toward him. He felt a hollowness settle in his lungs. This is going to happen, he said to himself. And I am going to let it happen. The stocky man in front was Paul Norney, whom Blackburn had known for eighteen years, ever since Army Intelligence had transferred him to Northern Ireland from Helsinki. Nelson Orr came next, limping on a right leg made of wood, compliments of the war in the Falklands. He and Blackburn had worked side by side for sixteen years, all of those years under the command of Timothy Nichols, who walked just behind, one hand holding a fishing cap on his head. The four men were silent as they boarded the boat. No greetings were exchanged, not a word was spoken. When they were under sail, tacking across the harbor, the rain increased and Nichols's gold-rimmed glasses were fogged when he turned to Blackburn. "Have you got her all right, James?" he asked. He took off his glasses, and James nodded. "Well, then," Nichols said as he drew his lips tight. "As we all know, this will be the last meeting of Group Four. When we return to shore, no trace of Group Four shall remain in existence. Everything is in place, gentlemen." Orr, the one quickest to anger, spoke next. "The bastards got Mountbatten on a sea just like this. Let's not forget that." "That was a bad day," Paul Norney said gruffly. Blackburn remembered it as well as anyone. August 27, 1979. The same afternoon the IRA set off bombs at Warrenpoint in County Down, killing eighteen British paratroopers. It was a turning point. Margaret Thatcher visited Warrenpoint the next day and immediately adopted a battle cry from the 1930s, declaring that the terrorists could be defeated by the army only if the politicians showed the necessary will to declare an all-out war against the IRA. "Everything goes back to that day," Nichols said grimly. "We're out here today in the rain, bobbing around on this cork because of that day." True, Blackburn thought, and somewhere in this world were the broken souls of those Irish citizens who lost loved ones on Bloody Sunday, when British paratroopers shot dead thirteen anti-internment marchers in Londonderry. He remem- bered the statement issued through his office after that massacre saying it was perfectly legal for the army to shoot anybody who obstructed or got in the way of the armed forces of the queen because getting in the way made you the queen's enemy. This went for children and the elderly, too, anyone who was simply too slow to get out of the way. Jesus, somewhere along the line it had all gotten out of hand, Blackburn thought as he watched a gust of wind from the northwest rush across the water. He pushed the tiller away from him, bringing the bow of the boat into irons to spill the gust. When the mainsail began flapping, Orr looked up at it anxiously. "Here's a pleasant thought, gentlemen," Orr said. "If we're caught, the loyalists and the IRA will argue over who gets to hang us." Norney laughed without expression. "No. Downing Street will hand two of us to the Catholics and the other two to the Protestants. And that will be the end of it." Blackburn, surprised to hear himself speaking, said, "If we're uncovered, there won't ever be an end to it." A silence fell over all four men. At last Nichols spoke, stating what was obvious to them, but what they were grateful, nonetheless, to have articulated. "If anything goes wrong, it's each man for himself. Our government will discredit us, our army will?" He paused for several seconds, then resumed with his head bowed as if in prayer. "We have done disagreeable things in the past so that the people in this pitiable country"?now he looked up?"people like the woman you were watching hang out her wash this morning, James, aren't crushed in the end. We do these things in order to prevent the destruction of everything that is decent." A strange silence fell over them; it seemed to possess a weight of its own, a weight that Blackburn could feel through the boat's rigging. There had been plenty of evil before, enough of it committed in the torture chamber of the prison at Long Kesh to send every British intelligence officer, bureaucrat, and politician to hell for a long time. And an equal sentence awaited the IRA, and the Unionist fanatics. Blackburn looked at the deep lines on Nichols's face, and his thinning gray hair. He remembered that when Timothy was just starting out, he had possessed the looks of a movie star. Espionage work has one moral principle: It is justified by results. These results had aged many good men beyond their years. But there was something more about the four of them, and each of them knew this. Each man in his own way wanted an end to this war the way only a soldier could want it. No politician in London or Belfast or Dublin or Washington was willing to do what these men were going to do to finally stop the killing. The meeting was over quickly, and when the sloop began heaving in the rising swells and two of the men started throwing up over the gunwales, Blackburn felt his own stomach turn, not because of the sea but because of the secret plan that the four of them were now pledged to. It was a murderously simple plan: The current peace negotiations must reach fulfillment at any cost, and everyone involved knew full well that they were doomed to fail in the end because the IRA would never agree to decommission its weapons. Unless, as Timothy Nichols had put it at their first meeting seven months ago when they formed Group Four, "we can succeed in turning the Irish people against their own army. We make the people hate the IRA and demand that they lay down their arms." The one certain way to achieve this was clear: The next time a bomb warning was called in by the IRA, the warning would be reversed, sending the innocent citizens of this country into the bomb area rather than away from it. There was no way of calculating in advance when the next warning would come or how many people would be killed or maimed, but Orr had told the group that his informers believed the IRA was planning a large incident before the end of summer. As Blackburn maneuvered the sloop back to her mooring, he thought again of the woman hanging out her clothes. Maybe someday he would return here and meet her. There would be peace then, and he would tell her how it had been achieved. Unless, of course, she was in her grave by then, one of the innocents sacrificed in order to bring this to a close. "And we're certain there's no other way?" he asked, though he knew the answer plainly enough. Only silence again. All three men looked at him and then away. It was Nichols who had the last word. "We've set our course to do the thing that governments and politicians cannot do," he said. "I think it's best if we remind ourselves that in this bloody business you can never be less evil than the evil you oppose." Excerpted from Night Crossing by Don J. Snyder All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.