Patrick Radden Keefe’s great achievement is to tell Northern Ireland’s 50 years of conflict through personal stories—a gripping and profoundly human explanation for a past that still denies and defines the future ... Only an outsider could have written a book this good. Irish or British writers are tainted by provenance ... [the book] handles the minefield scrupulously, dodges loaded vocabulary and allows people to condemn themselves by their actions ... Humanity shines through in the small anecdotes ... I can’t praise this book enough: it’s erudite, accessible, compelling, enlightening. I thought I was bored by Northern Ireland’s past until I read it.
If it seems as if I’m reviewing a novel, it is because Say Nothing has lots of the qualities of good fiction, to the extent that I’m worried I’ll give too much away, and I’ll also forget that Jean McConville was a real person, as were — are — her children ... Keefe is a terrific storyteller. It might seem odd, even offensive, to state it, but he brings his characters to real life. The book is cleverly structured ... Its closeness to the novel is a strength of Say Nothing and — I’m tempted to write — 'also a weakness.' But actually, it’s not a weakness, and only rarely a distraction ... [Keefe's] description of Dolours Price, a member of the I.R.A., in jail, on a hunger strike, being force-fed through a thin length of rubber hose, is vivid and quite rightly shocking ... What Keefe captures best, though, is the tragedy, the damage and waste, and the idea of moral injury ... The last section of the book, the tricky part of the story, life after violence, after the end, the unfinished business, the disappeared and the refusal of Jean McConville’s children to forget about her — I wondered as I read if Keefe was going to carry it off. He does. He deals very well with the war’s strange ending, the victory that wasn’t ... Say Nothing is an excellent account of the Troubles; it might also be a warning.
... an outsider’s perspective is what gives Say Nothing its exacting and terrifying lucidity ... Keefe follows the McConville story, interviewing more than a hundred sources and digging deeper and deeper, to the point where he comes to his own conclusion about who murdered her. But the culpability of any one individual is only part of this meticulously reported book ... Keefe’s narrative is an architectural feat, expertly constructed out of complex and contentious material, arranged and balanced just so ... Keefe’s depiction of Price is so rounded and intimate you’ll be surprised to learn that he never spoke to her ... This sensitive and judicious book raises some troubling, and perhaps unanswerable, questions.
Keefe sifts through unreliable narrators and narratives from the IRA and the British Loyalist sides to present a fast-paced, gripping history that never leaves context behind ... This book is a harrowing but fascinating examination of history in Northern Ireland, revealing and accessible for novice and expert alike.
... Keefe has woven a fascinatingly true story out of seemingly disparate threads ... These separate but related sagas entwine themselves into a rich tapestry of violence, tragedy, attempted redemption and memory that tells us ultimately much more than any single story could possibly explain. Keefe has given us a murder mystery inextricably tied to the bigger picture of the history of the IRA but most specifically centering on the so-called 'Troubles'.
What happened to McConville and the quest to find out who was responsible makes Patrick Radden Keefe’s remarkable book a gripping piece of non-fiction. This is an achievement in itself, but Say Nothing — breathtaking in its scope and ambition — is much more than that. A staff writer for The New Yorker, Radden Keefe has produced a searing examination of the nature of truth in war and the toll taken by violence and deceit. The result is a lyrically written work that will take its place alongside the best of the books about the Troubles, among them Ten Men Dead by David Beresford, Rebel Hearts by Kevin Toolis and Killing Rage by Eamon Collins ... By the end of this unrelenting, epic work, it is hard to feel optimistic.
... a fresh accounting of the moral balance sheet not just for those killed but for those who did the killing ... Keefe’s description of McConville’s killing is haunting, and it seems to have haunted her killers ... As a cautionary tale, Say Nothing speaks volumes — about the zealotry of youth, the long-term consequences of violence and the politics of forgetting.
Keefe creates a persuasive account ... through exhaustive research, new interviews, and especially the Boston College transcripts, Keefe vividly reconstructs the foxhole bonds among IRA members and Adams’s role in the organization’s operations, showing why his former comrades were so stung by his abandonment of the armed struggle in favor of politics—and why his claims of innocence ring false ... Say Nothing succeeds because it presents an extensive ledger of evidence against Adams, without reducing him to flat caricature.
... gripping, revelatory and unsettling ... With visceral detail, [Keefe] describes life in the embattled neighborhoods, where suspicion and betrayal festered on all sides. Keefe also offers compelling portraits of some of the leading figures in the conflict ... the most riveting figure in this narrative is Dolours Price...She was, allegedly, not an inherently violent person, and she was left wondering what it was all for. Which is one of the most profound and unanswerable questions this searing book will leave in a reader’s mind.
... much of this masterly reportage empathetically evokes the militant republican world from which McConville’s killers came. Above all, it traces the relationships that emerged among leading republicans as the slums of Belfast slid into a many-sided war that debased everyone—relationships that soured after bombs gave way to politics in the 1990s ... The discerning skill with which Mr Radden Keefe gets inside these characters’ minds may unsettle some readers, but it is also his book’s strength. He shows how people who in peacetime might just have been strong-willed or colourful types came to condone or perpetrate the unspeakable ... This book’s most lasting achievement may lie not in its forensic analysis of the McConville saga but in the questions it raises about the Northern Irish settlement.
[The book] reads at times like the annals of an action movie, teeming with superhero derring-do for 'the cause' — one Ireland, united, north and south ... Say Nothing powerfully documents a society benumbed by trauma attempting to reckon with the abyss that engulfed it ... Toggling between marveling at his 'sociopathy' and acumen though, I wonder if Say Nothing doesn’t unduly mythologize Adams. Mentioned only in passing is the vital tradition of non-physical force Irish nationalism.
... two threads entwine as Keefe pieces together confessional testimonies of ex-combatants with his own prodigious reporting to put forth a credible theory about who was responsible for McConville’s disappearance and death ... he zooms in to the combatants’ stories to illustrate how, in a place contorted by generations of discrimination and bloodshed, ordinary people can come to believe that violence is a moral imperative—an idea reinforced by ritual and pageantry.
An exceptional new book, Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, by Patrick Radden Keefe, explores [Ireland's] brittle [political] landscape to devastating effect. Mr. Keefe is a talented writer ... It is a dizzying panorama, yet Mr. Keefe presents it with clarity ... Mr. Keefe’s greatest contribution in Say Nothing is to separate the romance of Irish nationalism from the horror of political terrorism.
... extraordinary ... Smoothly wound together, [the narratives in the book] compose an epic account of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the bloody sectarian conflict between Catholics and Protestants that extended from the late 1960s to the Good Friday peace accord of 1998 ... Keefe is a storyteller who captures the complexities of a historical moment by digging deep into the lives of people on all sides of the conflict ... At the end of his panoramic book, which gathers together history, politics and biography, Keefe tightens the focus back to the mystery of McConville's abduction and murder. And, as in the most ingenious crime stories, Keefe unveils a revelation — lying, so to speak, in plain sight — that only further complicates the moral dimensions of his tale.
... vivid, sophisticated ... One of the book’s triumphs is the account of the exceptionally active 'D' company of the IRA led by Brendan Hughes ... Keefe shows an exemplary fairness ... The author concludes with some reflections on Brexit, which he rightly says has apparently destabilized an Irish political dispensation that had settled down in a comfortable partitionist consensus.
The sheer grisliness of the Northern Irish resistance made reading Say Nothing tough going ... Even as one who has experienced gruesome events on the battlefield, I often had to put Say Nothing aside as I recovered from the shock of the events depicted. Keefe is blatant in his narration. He should have been. The story of the Troubles is grim history best told graphically.
As a historian, there's no mistaking his bias: Keefe is contemptuous of the British government and the security services, and he venerates the Provisional IRA. As the narrator of a whodunit, however, he excels, exposing the past, layer by layer, like the slow peel of a rotten onion, as he works to answer a question that the British government, the Northern Irish police and the McConville family has been seeking the answer to for nearly 50 years ... Keefe draws the characters in this drama finely and colorfully ... Keefe is a meticulous researcher, whose dive into the source material that informs so many histories of the Troubles goes deeper than most. Say Nothing is at its best when it's at its most granular. Some of the details are delightful ... a timely warning that it doesn't take much to open old wounds in Ireland, and make them fresh once more.
The book is an extensive and often wrenching view of this bloody patch of history, especially fascinating in the way Keefe shows how indoctrination worked at the family level. While he identifies it as narrative nonfiction, the writing here is more straight historical account, rather than an immersive exploration, but it will definitely draw those interested in the Irish 'Troubles.'
Keefe’s juxtaposition – of Pearse’s romantic rhetoric and this hellish modern image, of myth and reality – is sharp and his intention clear. Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland will be just that, true. But not clear and certainly not clean ... In alternating chapters, Keefe deftly evokes [the story's] interconnected lives, each one shaped by and ultimately shaping the violent history of a divided territory ... Keefe nimbly weaves in the tangled strands of the past but holds fast to his connecting thread, McConville ... There are indeed other omissions, some crucial, and in this respect Keefe at times risks trading substance for smoothness. Say Nothing is, consequently, the oddest of hybrids: a pleasingly even chronicle of terror, expertly paced, and as moving as it is horrifying.
Deeply observed ... the author does an excellent job of keeping an exceedingly complicated storyline on track ... Keefe’s reconstruction of events and the players involved is careful and assured ... A harrowing story of politically motivated crime that could not have been better told.
... Keefe makes a persuasive case that McConville was killed at his order for being an informer to the British—and the author’s dogged detective work enables him to plausibly name those who literally pulled the trigger. Tinged with immense sadness, this work never loses sight of the humanity of even those who committed horrible acts in support of what they believed in.