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What Not To Do On St. Patrick's Day
on June 29, 2002
Don't even think of what a grand revolutionary gesture it would be to blow up St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City! This is the premise of Nelson DeMille's hefty (575 pages) ambitious thriller.
A group of 12 fiery Irish revolutionaries led by charismatic Brian Flynn have minutely planned to take four carefully chosen hostages, seize and mine the cathedral and threaten to blow it up at dawn the following day unless their demands are met to free political prisoners jailed in Northern Ireland by the British. The hostages are the Archbishop of New York, the British Counsel General, a parish priest, and Maureen Malone, a former terrorist with close ties to Brian Flynn, but now a peace activist.
Mr. DeMille pulls it off. He drives the breath-taking pace by fast cuts from Belfast, to the cathedral, to the desperate workings of the police and government to foil the attempt. The military precision of the takeover is meticulously described (thank goodness for the map of St. Patrick's!) in fascinating detail. Precisely drawn vignettes of the supporting cast as well as the major characters inspire the reader's care and interest in the outcome on large and small levels. The author is wickedly adept at portraying politics at its worst when revealing the tangled motives of the Mayor, the New York Police Dept., the Governor of New York, the British and Irish Consulates, the CIA and FBI. The revolutionaries are a complex lot, some with fire and vision, others stone killers, and some innocents that break your heart.
In one way it reminded me of "Apollo 13" in that you knew the astronauts would be rescued (historical fact), but you got so wrapped up in the story you feared for their very lives. I know St. Patrick's is still standing in all its glory, but while reading "Cathedral" I so suspended belief that I gave 3-1 odds that it wouldn't be standing by mid-morning the next day!
The author does a better job of delineating men then women. The women were not one-dimensional, but enigmatic as to their motives and reactions. The men were marvelous mixtures of good and bad, bravery and cowardice, humor and madness---until you could see them standing before you. I did find myself wondering throughout: where did this rag tag group get the money to mount such a complicated offensive? This aspect could have been clarified.
"Cathedral" is a satisfying read. Call it escapism or just plain good ole story telling, I felt as if I was there every moment and had a total investment in the outcome.