An author faces a monumental task when writing historical fiction. If one historical fact is wrong or an anachronism appears, the reader is likely to put aside the book in favor of one that achieves historical accuracy tempered with believable dialogue, heightened tension, and sympathetic, yet flawed, heroes.
If you are a reader of historical fiction who requires accuracy, suspense, and flawed, yet heroic main characters, then I suggest you read Tan - A Story of Exile, Betrayal and Revenge by David Lawlor.
Set in England and then Ireland in the year after the end of World War I, Tan explores war from a closer view immediately following Liam Mannion's release from the English Army in 1919. Here's a guy forced to leave Ireland at a young age because of an act he witnessed after a night of drinking at a friend’s wedding. It’s here where the conflict of the story begins when the evil Webber blames and accuses the young Liam of an indecent act against a virtuous married woman. Webber’s fiction that forces Liam into exile begins a whole series of events that mark Liam for life.
Liam heads to England in 1914 and ends up in the English army fighting in France during the majority of World War I.
When Liam eventually heads back to England after the horrid and putrid rot of dead bodies that made up his memory of the war, he ends up in an insufferable situation which leads him to homelessness, and then worse, as an officer of the crown as a member of the powerful and often repressive Black and Tan. Liam turns a blind eye to the atrocious behavior of his English comrades, only until it becomes evident that his loyalty to the Black and Tan extracts too high of a rent for clean clothes and warm bowl of soup.
Lawlor captures the uncertainty of the times through the examination of Liam's uncertain future as he's thrust into situations beyond his control. Precise and graphic descriptions of life in England and Ireland post-World War I show that despite the end of a tragic war on the mainland of Europe, Ireland faced an even greater war at home with the invasion and intrusion of the Tans.
I fell in love with Lawlor’s descriptions of the setting in Tan as I lost myself in the world of the Irish fighting for their lives and their homeland. Here’s an example of Lawlor’s powerful descriptive talent:
“They leaned against the viaduct’s promenade rail, looking out on their hometown, watching the slow huff of a steam engine as it trundled into the station, the smell of the sea mingling with the coke from Cumisky’s coal yard beneath them.”
It’s filled with contrast and detail that employ the senses to show the reader that the situation and the setting are both beautiful and polluted.
Tan is both tender and violent as the reader is drawn into the abyss of angry revenge and the love and loyalty of friends and family. It also shows that being born into a family does not guarantee such loyalty. The character of the individual breeds the kind of loyalty that would take a bullet and shoot a bullet to protect and exact revenge.
I highly recommend Tan if you like to lose yourself into another world in the past of one hundred years ago on the soil of Ireland, bloodied from wars and stained with tears.
Tan is referred to the "Black and Tans" in Ireland. They consisted of soldiers who previously served and were brought into Ireland in 1919 by London's government. Their job was to assist the RIC, the Royal Irish Constabulary.
The first Black and Tan soldiers arrived in Ireland in March 1920. They accepted the job offered because they were unemployed and unskilled (except to fight in a war). So the main reason was pure and simple; money. They severely lacked discipline and found pleasure in terrorizing local communities during Ireland's War of Independence.
The story of exile:
The year is 1914; the place is Balbriggan, Ireland. A young man named Liam Mannion is accused of rape. He is beaten just shy of death by the ruthless RIC District Inspector Webber. In order to save his life, Liam's father helps him escape and he ends up in England. He enlists and fights in the war for five hellish years. Today we call it PTSD; in 1919 Liam deals silently with the memories of trench warfare.
Liam needs to find work, so he takes a job in a cotton mill in Manchester. Not only is the job hell physically, mostly because of the five years spent at war ruining his lungs, but the Brits don't like the Irish, so the prejudices were hell to put up with on a daily basis.
Since poor Liam could hardly breathe working in the mill, he quit. With no job and no food, he once again enlists, this time in the "Black and Tans." Ironically, he is assigned a post in Balbriggan, Ireland, his home town which he fled in 1914.
The story of betrayal:
Liam is now a Black and Tan, and his hometown friends fight for the republican cause and his own brother for the British Armed Forces. Again, poor Liam has to deal with fighting on the unscrupulous Tan side while he wrestles with his feelings of loyalty to friends and family.
The story of revenge:
Remember the beating he took from Inspector Webber? Well, you must read Tan - A story of exile, betrayal and revenge, to experience the essence of revenge.
David Lawlor's descriptions of violent combat battles are exceptionally compelling. However, he didn't lose sight of the fact his book was a historical fiction. Lawlor brilliantly introduces the family; Liam's brother Eoin, who is jealous of Liam, and his father, Dan, who he loves and respects.
Other characters including friends and women are perfectly woven into the story. It's a beautifully written novel in which to entertain and learn about this period of Irish history.
Wrongly accused of a heinous crime by a ruthless policeman, Liam Mannion, a young Irishman, is forced to flee everything he has ever known -- his family, town and country -- in 1914.
Five years after Liam escapes Balbriggan and Ireland, much has changed. World War I is over, but Liam and many of the men who fought in the trenches have been scarred forever by the brutality and violence of the conflict. At the same time, Ireland is mired in a war of its own pitting those serving the British government like the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) police force against the Irish Republican Army, the military wing of the movement to create a free Irish nation.
In Tan: A Story of Exile, Betrayal and Revenge, author David Lawlor (@LawlorDavid) builds a wonderfully gripping fictional story against a backdrop of actual events during the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921), including the Sack of Balbriggan. Liam, his family and friends, and the other characters are richly drawn and complex, with ambitions and motivations that range from the most basic to the highest ideal. There are plenty of action scenes and a few romances along the way as the narrative builds to an intense conclusion -- I was glued to my Kindle for the final five chapters.
Demobilized from the Army after the Great War and unable to hold a job in England, a sick and starving Liam has little choice but to join a new paramilitary group being formed to bring order to Ireland: The Black and Tans, so named because of the mismatched/grab-bag of uniforms they are issued. The ranks of the Tans are filled by veterans of the Great War, men who have not been able to reintegrate into society. Many are petty criminals and violent thugs, others -- like Liam -- suffer from what we today would call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but was first termed around this time as "Shell Shock."
The introduction of the Tans into the conflict was intended to provide enough manpower to tip the scales against the increasing popularity of the IRA, and it coincided with the decision of the British and RIC leadership to "take the gloves off" in their fight against the rebels. The result was predictable as the ill-disciplined Tans -- to paraphrase one of my favorite lines from James Webb's excellent Vietnam novel Fields of Fire -- created more rebels than they stopped.
It is interesting to note that religion plays little role in Tan. Although many Americans are likely to view the history of Ireland through the lens of religious conflict (Protestant North vs. Catholic Republic), the truth is -- inevitably -- much more complex. At the time when Tan was set by some estimates the vast majority, seventy-five percent, of the RIC were Irish-Catholic and several prominent members of the Irish Nationalist movement were Protestant. Although religion certainly became an issue later, especially during "The Troubles," during the Irish War of Independence the question wasn't what church you attended but what your vision for the country's future was: a free republic or some version of continued British rule.
Tan is the third novel I've read in the past year which in some degree has featured Ireland and the conflict there, although the first set in the War of Independence/Civil War time period. It is a beautiful country with a highly complex and rich history. I highly recommend Tan to anyone looking for a exciting read and am thrilled to see from his blog historywithatwist.wordpress.com that Mr. Lawlor is working on a sequel. I can't wait to read it.
The title of the book interested me straight away. As a young child, my grandmother told me stories of how the Black and Tans roamed around her home place in north County Dublin. She showed me the monument at Rath Cross, just outside Ashbourne, where brave Irishmen died in the struggle for freedom and independence.
The author's account rings true with my grandmother's personal memories; I felt a real sense of authenticity about the story. And Lawlor's use of dialogue, in particular, is up to the mark.
But one of the most interesting strands to the story is the brilliant description of sibling jealousy. I'm sure this will fascinate many readers; worth reading the book for this alone.
There is so much more though. I especially liked the portrayal of the women throughout. They are given time and substance; very engaging, likeable and credible. The fighting scenes, also, are riveting. At one point I thought Lawlor himself must have experienced the ordeals.
I would love to see this story made into a movie. Here's one who would pay to see it.
For anyone who enjoys historical fiction, TAN is a wonderful read. Set in a difficult time in Irish history, author David Lawlor creates characters that are compelling and whether you come to love them or loth them, you do feel as though you know them. The first Lawlor book I read was High Crimes and was set in present day...quite a talent to be able to carry this range of storytelling. I have a feeling that no two books of Mr. Lawlor's are alike and look forward to reading more.
This book is an excellent read, it is well-paced, has memorable characters and is a catchy story.
As an Irish person with an interest in the troubles surrounding the formation of the state I worried how The Tans themselves would be portrayed - they are an easy bunch to vilify - but I needn't have worried. The author doesn't use history as an easy win for his storytelling, the heroes and villains of this piece are carefully constructed, and he (the author) manages to link the subtleties of the individual's struggle with war, peace and heavy-handed policing with the similar struggles of the fledgling nation.
This isn't only a book for republicans, or those who lean in that direction, it is a great story, that has a fictional slant on the real Burning of Balbriggan (a small town which is now part of Dublin's suburb), and it is told with a humanity that means I can happily recommend this to my Aussie, American and UK friends.
Oh, and for the Irish reading it, the dialogue is excellent, there's no pandering to the oirish mentality and it won't grate on your ear (another worry I had).
I don't usually read novels, preferring factual material instead. However, a friend recently told me about Tan - a gripping story set during the shocking times when Ireland was subjected to the terror of the Black and Tans. My interest was aroused because my own Grandfather had a near miss with the Tans. I downloaded the novel. Well I found it to be a thoroughly entertaining and well written story about a young Irishman: Liam Mannion who suffers the continuing wrath of an RIC heavy called: Webber. I found the story to be an entertaining and historical page turner, with many surprises awaiting along the way. I would have no hesitation in recommending Tan as a really enjoyable read.
A very well written and well researched story. I think this would appeal to anyone interested in the behind the trenches war story. Lots of detail about what it was like in early 20th century Ireland and also the reasons why Ireland wanted to be independent. The story casts the British in a very bad yet very authentic light and what the Irish people gave up for to be a Republic.
From the moment when the unlucky hero intervenes to stop a rape - and discovers that he has just offended the powerful RIC man - through the Great War and the fight for Irish independence, this story carries the reader along on a tide of action. Unputdownable.