Book Review: Say Nothing: A True Story Of Murder and Memory In Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe

About the Book:




TIME’s #1 Best Nonfiction Book of 2019


One night in December 1972, Jean McConville, a mother of ten, was abducted from her home in Belfast and never seen alive again. Her disappearance would haunt her orphaned children, the perpetrators of the brutal crime and a whole society in Northern Ireland for decades.

Through the unsolved case of Jean McConville’s abduction, Patrick Radden Keefe tells the larger story of the Troubles, investigating Dolours Price, the first woman to join the IRA, who bombed the Old Bailey; Gerry Adams, the politician who helped end the fighting but denied his IRA past; and Brendan Hughes, an IRA commander who broke their code of silence. A gripping story forensically reported, Say Nothing explores the extremes people will go to for an ideal, and the way societies mend – or don’t – after long and bloody conflict.

Published by HarperCollins GB
Released September 2019

My Thoughts:

‘For a group with an alarming tendency to kill people by accident, the IRA had an elaborate internal mechanism for determining whether to kill people on purpose.’

This is honestly more of a book recommendation than a proper review. While I’m not the most prolific reader of non-fiction, I do read my fair share, particularly on topics of interest. Say Nothing is hands down the best non-fiction book I’ve ever read. Written in the style of narrative non-fiction, you would be forgiven for thinking at times you were reading a crime thriller. It’s just that well written and that captivating.

‘Tranquilliser use was higher in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. In some later era, the condition would probably be described as post-traumatic stress, but one contemporary book called it ‘the Belfast syndrome’, a malady that was said to result from ‘living with constant terror, where the enemy is not easily identifiable and the violence is indiscriminate and arbitrary’.

One thing that I was reminded of over and over whilst reading this book was the modernity of it. This is not history. People who are the same age as my father were involved in the initial conflict during the 1970s. I remember bombings from the 1990s. Brexit is touched on towards the end. This situation in Northern Ireland may not be what it once was, but it isn’t yet what it should be.

‘The presence of the gun in Irish politics is not the sole responsibility of the Irish. The British were responsible for putting it there in the first place and they continue to use it to stay in Ireland.’ – GERRY ADAMS

Patrick Radden Keefe is a terrific writer and the 100 pages of notes and sources at the end of the book attest to his meticulous attention to detail when researching and writing Say Nothing. The only perspective of depth that is missing is the loyalist one but he addresses the why and what of this and directs readers onwards if they are seeking further reading. Nothing is ever so simple as black or white, good or evil, and I appreciated the empathy this book was written with. I felt a great deal of sympathy for those who volunteered for the IRA and then later felt sold out. Their reasoning made a lot of sense. That doesn’t mean I favour terrorism, it just means I understand and also have empathy for the initial motivation and the later situations these people found themselves in.

‘The Belfast Project, as it became known, seemed to address an obvious shortcoming in the Good Friday Agreement. In their effort to bring about peace, the negotiators had focused on the future rather than the past. The accord provided for the release of paramilitary prisoners, many of whom had committed atrocious acts of violence. But there was no provision for the creation of any sort of truth-and-reconciliation mechanism that might allow the people of Northern Ireland to address the sometimes murky and often painful history of what had befallen their country over the previous three decades.’

‘To Hughes, Good Friday had symbolised the ultimate concession: formal acceptance by the republican movement that the British would remain in Ireland. Hughes had killed people. He had done so with the conviction that he was fighting for a united Ireland. But it now became clear to him that the leadership of the movement may have been prepared to settle for less than absolute victory and had elected – deliberately, in his view – not to inform soldiers like him.’

The striking cover image is of Dolours Price when she was photographed for the Italian magazine L’Europeo on a trip to Italy to raise funds for the Catholic cause during the 1970s. The Troubles have been explored and interpreted through popular culture from the 1970s onwards. Music, poetry, novels and non-fiction books (particularly memoirs), movies and television series. I have watched, read and listened to a lot since my early 20s. I’ll reiterate again that Say Nothing is outstanding, an incredible piece of political writing that is comprehensive, compelling, empathetic, and challenging, leaving the reader with much to contemplate.


I first heard of this book over at Books Are My Favourite and Best.

9 thoughts on “Book Review: Say Nothing: A True Story Of Murder and Memory In Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe

  1. Like you, I like fiction best but I read my share of NF too. If you are interested in this topic try to get hold of Mo Moylan’s book. She was the one who achieved the Good Friday Agreement but died of brain cancer soon afterwards. Now men get all the credit for it…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: 2021: #23 – Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland (Patrick Radden Keefe) – Confessions of a Bibliophile

  3. Pingback: Life According to Literature Tag | Theresa Smith Writes

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