Volume 24, No. 2, Summer 2008
Killing the Peace Process
by Ruth Dudley Edwards (London, England)
After a slow start, my countrymen have discovered mystery fiction and are making a fine contribution to the genre. Most of it is too bleak or scary for me. I often have to write about terrible violence in my day job (the non-fiction book I’m writing at present is about the devastating Omagh bomb of 1998), so in my recreational reading I am squeamish and I particularly like to laugh. The same applies to my fiction. There are plenty of bodies in my mysteries, but little blood. And there are a lot of jokes.
The Irish, like the Jews, go in for black humour in a big way, so it was probably inevitable that the only story I have set in my native Ireland, The Anglo-Irish Murders, should be the blackest and probably the most offensive though I hope one of the funniest of my satirical mysteries. After all, it made fun of a great sacred cow of contemporary politics the peace process in Northern Ireland.
Mind you, as things have developed since then, I am left groaning, as I often do, ‘Pity the poor satirist’. For after years of effort by the British and Irish governments and, indeed, Bill Clinton, Northern Ireland ended up with a roaring Protestant bigot as First Minister and a Catholic Deputy who is a mass-murderer who used to run the IRA. You couldn’t make it up.
The book was inspired by my years as an historian and journalist trying to make sense of the tribal passions that were driving people to kill each other, and even more by the hypocrisy, cant, portentousness and moral cowardice that I observed at innumerable international conferences. Sometimes, as those of us who had never stolen as much as a dime were being lectured on our failings by ex-terrorists who spoke politically-correct peace-babble, I would muse on how I would kill the offenders in a mystery. I made an early decision to dress one particularly pompous specimen in a T-shirt saying ‘PEACE’ and throw him from the top of a tower.
I set my hero, Robert Amiss, to organising a conference on cultural sensitivities to be held in a vulgar castle in the rainy west of Ireland. His mission is to make everyone get on with each other, yet as chairwoman he has been saddled with the Baroness Troutbeck, whom a reviewer remarked ‘is to diplomacy what Osama bin Laden is to basket-weaving.’ The unfortunate Robert has to deal with a cast of characters that include three kinds of terrorists, unctuous do-gooders, English appeasers, two-faced Irish, a Welsh woman who never shuts up, a left-wing guitar-playing Jesuit, an Irish-speaking Japanese, gobbledygook-spouting academics, and an Irish-American meddling noisily in matters of which she is completely ignorant. Everyone, naturally, lives up to their national stereotype: a conference that was supposed to show there is more than unites people than divides them dramatically achieves the opposite.
And then, of course, there is the challenge of keeping the conference going despite the murders.
It did me so much good, that book. I went back to the next British-Irish conference and smiled and shook hands with my victims. That’s one thing about writing satire: it seems to make you a nicer person.
Ruth Dudley Edwards