It is the only book I have read in more than a year because I am finding it difficult to concentrate at the moment. Enough moaning already.
Anatomy Of A Killing was an easy read. Written in an effortless style, I simply turned the pages from start to finish.
One of it’s reviewers described it as a “micro-history of the troubles”, a good description. Micro-histories are important parts of the jigsaw puzzle. They allow us to look into the nooks-and-crannies where macro-history does not go. It is a novel approach to uncovering a lot of fine detail about events
that were almost mundane in their regularity.
The book appealed to me on a personal level also, because I know the central players in the story; the perpetrators as some would call them. In fact, I could visualise their faces and hear their voices inside my head. Micky and Phelim, intellectual solders; Harry, the unpolished street fighter from the wrong side of the fence; and Gary, a reluctant participant in a political killing. Cobain deserves credit for resisting the temptation to paint these men as monsters.
Attempts to justify past actions in new circumstance is not an easy task. For most people the taking of a life, for any reason, is beyond the pale. Murder is the worst possible crime in a civilised society (A loaded sentence if ever there was one.) Cobain avoided such simplicity in his book which is another point to his credit. Instead, he drills down into the personal motivations of combatants caught up in a bitter conflict. He allows the actors to speak for themselves without conferring legitimacy.
Political motivation is at the heart of the story from the viewpoint of those who pulled the trigger on Millar McAllister. He was not an innocent bystander by any stretch of the imagination. He was a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. His fate was sealed when he was recognised in Castlereagh police station in East Belfast, an infamous interrogation center. Given the times that were in it, he was certain to be targeted by Republicans.
To his own community, Millar McAllister was a brave man standing in the gap of danger at great personal risk too. To his family, he was a loving husband and devoted father. There are always two sides to every story. Cobain tells it from all perspectives and reveals the long term consequences of “one man’s violent death” for all those involved. A particularly gruesome detail of his killing was the fact that it was witnessed by his young son.
Anatomy Of A Killing is well worth reading for the insights it provides. The right and wrongs will be debated back and forth for all long time to come.
Ian Cobain, 2020, Anatomy of a Killing: Life and Death on a Divided Island. Granta Publications. ISBN-13: 978-1846276408