One of the topics which seems to fascinate my children is: “if someone killed me, would you kill them?” I think the theoretical query is intended to test the bounds of my devotion to them – these are, of course, limitless (although I do have an inbuilt aversion to cleaning up vomit and am not keen on washing football kit). When posed the question though, I usually give a non-committal reply, not sure whether I would actually be able to take an eye for an eye. ‘A Waking Serpent‘ by Peter Boyle tackles this very subject.
Robert, an architect with offices in London and Hong Kong, witnesses the murder of his son by members of the IRA. From his grief comes a desire for revenge; he and his family take it upon themselves to avenge Richard’s death by hunting down and killing the members of the terrorist cell responsible. Their quest leads them into danger, they risk their own lives and safety, but do not deviate from their purpose. It is fascinating to see the contrast between this ordinary family in plotting-to-kill mode, then again on their garden lawn sipping white wine in the sunshine. One thing I particularly enjoyed about the book is the strong female characters, especially Robert’s warrior daughter, Joanna.
It is clear that Mr Boyle has considerable knowledge of the murky underworld of crime which supports terrorist activity and the afterword confirms that he worked for GCHQ, the Intelligence and Security organisation. I’ve met him, actually. This is the second time recently that I have read a book by someone I’ve met in the flesh. In this instance, I was really surprised at the contrast between fact and fiction as Peter was a mild mannered man with a passion for fly-angling and a considerable talent for watercolour painting.
By the time I finished reading, I was fairly sure that my answer to my kids’ hypothetical situation : “No darling, I wouldn’t. I might want to, but I am not brave enough.”
There is a rather sad postcript to this review. I met Peter in the summer at the river where he loved to fish. When he heard about my blog, he asked whether I would read and review his book and I was happy to oblige. I downloaded and started the book that evening, but didn’t quite finish it. Whilst waiting for my son to come out of football on Saturday last, I decided to use the ‘Kindle’ App on my IPhone to read the last couple of chapters. Once I’d turned the last virtual page, I was already mentally writing my blog post and thinking about an email to send Peter to say how much I had enjoyed ‘A Waking Serpent’. I arrived home an hour or so later to learn from my husband that Peter had passed away suddenly on Friday night. The coincidence caused me to wonder if there are forces at work in the world, about which we understand very little.
Peter’s untimely death has had a devastating effect on his wide circle of friends. His book is lasting proof of his undoubted intelligence, creativity and lively imagination.