TAN by David Lawlor is a gripping novel that tells the story of Irishman Liam Mannion, beginning before World War I and continuing into the Irish War of Independence. Framed for a crime he didn’t commit, Liam is exiled to England and endures five years of trench warfare in France before making his way back to his homeland as a member of the infamous Black and Tans, a group that served as a brutal strong arm force for the English crown. Stationed in his hometown of Balbriggan, Liam is forced to confront his own divided loyalties, as well as those of his own family, and face the brute who framed him.
Before reading this novel, I knew little about the Irish War of Independence. In fact, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t heard the term “Black and Tan” until I picked up this book and then, coincidentally, they were mentioned in the current season of Downton Abbey. But this is why I love historical fiction. In the hands of a skilled author like Lawlor, I’m transported to another place and time to learn about events that mattered a great deal.
Lawlor is a fantastic storyteller. He created characters I cared about, crafting even minor players in ways that made them memorable and real. I was pleased to find that the women in the story were written with intelligence and courage, substance and compassion. Lawlor builds the action in scene after scene in a way that makes the book hard to put down. Fortunately the frequent battle scenes that create an abundance of tension and anxiety are balanced with moments of humor.
The author’s sympathies are clearly with the Irish, but the story fairly points out that both sides in a war are capable of brutality, both sides have legitimate points of view. Because Liam’s own brother sides with the British, readers face the complicated reality of families torn apart by war. No one gets off easily in this one.
Many characters speak in Irish vernacular, which took me a while to settle into, but which ensured I was immersed in Ireland. The dialect didn’t get in the way of enjoying the story, since it could all be understood in context.
TAN made me want to know more about the Irish War of Independence. Lawlor has me eager to read his next book.