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Copyright © 2021 by Flynn Berry
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library of congress cataloging-in-publication data
Names: Berry, Flynn, 1986– author.
Title: Northern spy: a novel / Flynn Berry.
Description: [New York]: Viking, 
Identifiers: LCCN 2020031796 (print) | LCCN 2020031797 (ebook) | ISBN 9780735224995 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780735225008 (ebook)
Subjects: GSAFD: Mystery fiction. | Suspense fiction.
Classification: LCC PS3602.E76367 N67 2021 (print) | LCC PS3602.E76367 (ebook) | DDC 813/.6—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020031796
LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020031797
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover design: Colin Webber
Cover image: Al Higgins / Millennium Images, UK
For Ronan and Declan
About the Author
THEY WILL FORGET ABOUT YOU. WE WON’T.
—IRA graffiti, 2019
We are born with a startle reflex. Apparently it’s caused by the sensation of falling. Sometimes, in his crib, my son will fling out his arms, and I hold my hand to his chest to reassure him.
It happens less often now than in the first months. He doesn’t constantly think the ground is falling away beneath him. I do, though. My startle reflex has never been so strong. Of course it is, everyone’s is at the moment. That’s part of living in Northern Ireland, at this point in time, during this phase of terrorism.
It’s difficult to know how scared to be. The threat level is severe, but, then, it has been for years. The government evaluates terrorist organizations based on capacity, timescale, and intent. At the moment, we should be worried about the IRA on all three counts. An attack might be imminent, but no one can say where.
The odds are, not here. Not on this lane, where I’m walking with the baby. A gunman isn’t about to appear around the bend in the road. I always watch for one in Belfast, on my way to work, but not out here, surrounded by hedgerows and potato fields.
We live, for all intents and purposes, in the middle of nowhere. My house is on the Ards peninsula, a curve of land between Strangford Lough, a deep saltwater inlet, and the sea. Greyabbey is a tiny village, a twist on the lough road. Four hundred houses set among green fields and lanes and orchards. On the lough shore, canoes float in the reeds. This doesn’t look like a conflict zone, it looks like the place you’d return to after a war.
Finn sits in his carrier on my chest, facing forward down the lane. I chat to him and he babbles back at me, kicking his heels against my thighs. Ahead of us, birds disappear into gaps in the hedgerow. At the edge of the pasture, a row of telephone poles rises along the road. Past them, the sky is white toward the sea.
My son is six months old. The conflict might be over by the time he can walk or read. It might end before he learns to clap or says his first word or drinks from a cup or has whole fruit instead of purée. All of this might never touch him.
It should already be over, of course. My sister and I were born near the end of the Troubles. We were children in 1998, when the Good Friday Agreement was signed, we painted peace signs and doves on bedsheets and hung them from our windows. It was all meant to be finished then.
Except bodies were still being found in peat bogs along the border. Searches were being conducted to find informers the IRA had disappeared. The coroner’s inquests hadn’t all finished, or the investigations into police collusion, and riots still broke out every year during marching season. At certain funerals, men in ski masks and mirrored sunglasses would appear in the cortège, chamber their handguns, and fire shots over the coffin, which was odd, since they said they’d decommissioned all their weapons.
So it was never peace exactly. The basic argument of the Troubles hadn’t been resolved: most Catholics still wanted a united Ireland, most Protestants wanted to remain part of the UK. The schools were still segregated. You still knew, in every town, which was the Catholic bakery, which was the Protestant taxi firm.
How could anyone not have seen this coming? We were living in a tinderbox. Of course it was going to catch, and when it did, so many men were ready to throw themselves back into the fighting. Peace hadn’t suited them. They hadn’t made a success of it. In their statements and communiqués, I could sense their relief, like they were sleeper agents, left behind in an enemy country, glad that they hadn’t been forgotten.
From the lane, I turn onto the lough road. The water is platinum with sunlight. It will be hot again today. I want this walk to last, but soon we’re at the main street, and his day care. I kiss Finn goodbye, confident, as always, that between now and tomorrow morning I’ll find