It’s 1921 and the Irish War of Independence is in its third year. Seeking freedom from British rule, flying columns from the Irish Republican Army conduct hit-and-run raids on Crown forces including the Royal Army and police from the Royal Irish Constabulary and “Black and Tans”— temporary constables known in large part for their violent attacks on people and property, including the Sack of Balbriggan in 1920.
Liam fought for Great Britain in the Great War and he was once a member of the Black and Tans, a decision born of desperation when his discharge from the army left him jobless and ‘living rough’ on the streets. He quickly realized what a mistake that was and changed sides to fight for Ireland — a story told in Tan (my review). After the events of that book, Liam had to hide out for awhile and spent some time hunting gold in France, the basis for The Golden Grave (my review).
Now he’s back in the fight on home soil, alongside his fiancé Kate Hanrahan who is an IRA intelligence officer. But the war isn’t going as smoothly as they’d hoped. Facing the might and resources of the British Empire, the IRA is operating on a shoestring, with every bullet and gun precious and each man lost a telling blow. On top of that, British forces have recently discovered several arms caches and seem to have prior knowledge of IRA missions.
Given the circumstances, it is perhaps inevitable that the specter of a turncoat or two in the ranks would rise. When Liam and Kate are given separate secret missions by Michael Collins, the “big fella” himself, they get caught in the whirlwind, trying to piece together clues that will make sense of it all. Who is loyal and to what? In the following quotes Liam’s father and a widow of the war tell Kate their concerns:
‘I don’t know if anyone is safe. All it takes is a whisper from someone with a grudge and people are accusing each other of spying and all sorts, and half the time there’s nothing in it at all. … Really, Kate, this sort of witch– hunting paranoia is getting out of hand, and I’m surprised to see that you’ve become part of it.’
— Lawlor, David. A Time of Traitors (Kindle Locations 1668-1671).
Hannah sipped from her cup . ‘It’s a strange war when you have Irishmen fighting their own people , and spies and informers all around. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the good from the bad.’
Kate said nothing, but those words burned a hole inside her all the way home.
— Lawlor, David. A Time of Traitors (Kindle Locations 2921-2924).
Making the difficult tasks before Liam and Kate that much harder, the Truce of 1921 is announced and the first cracks of division appear in the IRA between those who are willing to accept peace without fully achieving their aims and those who won’t.
To say much more than that would be to spoil the story for future readers. Suffice to say there are plot twists and turns aplenty and some shocking losses as the action ranges from the Irish countryside to the streets of London. Once again, Mr. Lawlor has taken historical events and threaded through them a compelling and exciting bit of fiction. It is important to note, too, that it isn’t necessary to have read the prior two books to fully enjoy A Time of Traitors. There are callbacks to prior events that provide necessary context.
I’m certainly biased but I love the setting and the characters, who have changed realistically over the course of the three books. From the trenches of France to Ireland’s pastures and the rougher streets of London, Liam has essentially been at war for the better part of a decade and it shows. What today we call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, was then known as “shell shock” or “war neurosis” and Liam has it. Similarly, Kate and Liam’s father Dan suffer terrible losses and are suitably affected by them.
Mr. Lawlor closes A Time of Traitors with a scene that makes it clear, to me at least, he’s not done telling stories about Liam and this time in Ireland’s history. There’s a treaty on the horizon, and a civil war, too. And Liam didn’t take care of all his business in London, either. Personally, I can’t wait for the next book.
In addition to his books, I highly recommend checking out David Lawlor’s blog, historywithatwist.