Novel High Dive about IRA plot to kill Thatcher will be bestseller after earning rave reviews
"Today we were unlucky, but remember... we only have to be lucky once; you will have to be lucky always..."
The IRA's chilling warning to Margaret Thatcher after the 1984 Brighton bombing is the inspiration for a new novel which is being tipped to be a runaway best seller.
High Dive, by the relatively unknown English author Jonathan Lee, was published in hardback only last week, but has already garnered rave reviews for its gripping dialogue and suspenseful writing, even though most readers will already be familiar with the IRA's failed attempt to assassinate the then Prime Minister at Brighton's Grand Hotel during the Tory party conference 31 years ago.
Lee tells the story through three fictional characters - disillusioned Belfast republican Dan, who buys into the plot to kill Mrs Thatcher and plants a bomb in room 629 (which is primed to explode 24 days, six hours and six minutes later), the Grand Hotel manager 'Moose' Finch and his teenage daughter Freya.
Speaking exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph, 32-year-old Lee said he first became interested in the Troubles after spending time in Northern Ireland a decade ago.
"I used to visit Belfast regularly when I was based in London and working as a lawyer," he recalled.
"Most of my time was spent in the Cathedral Quarter and I came to love Northern Ireland; the vibrancy and humour of the people, their toughness and the taste for storytelling."
He added: "While on those trips, I began to feel ashamed of myself for knowing little about the history of the Troubles.
"I began reading more and more about that, and writing High Dive give me a reason to dig even deeper."
Phil Baker of the Sunday Times described Lee's book as "an extraordinary performance, vividly written, painfully human and fully fleshing the inner lives of its characters," while The Guardian's Jake Arnott noted: "Jonathan Lee is quite brilliant at excavating the disappointment of characters constantly chasing lost opportunities.
"The IRA used a long-delay detonator on the Brighton bomb and Lee employs this modus operandi himself, cleverly allowing their plot to provide his."
Five people died and another 34, including the then Trade Secretary Norman Tebbit and his wife Margaret, were injured when the IRA bomb, planted by Patrick Magee, ripped through the seaside hotel on October 12, 1984.
Magee received eight life sentences in September 1986, but was released from prison in 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
The title High Dive refers to the Moose character, a once-promising but now out-of-shape diver who suffers a heart attack while attempting to show off in a local pool. It is the third novel from the New York-based Lee.
His debut novel, Who is Mr Satoshi?, was nominated for the Desmond Elliott Prize for Literature, and Joy, his second effort, was included in The Observer's Books of the Year list in 2012 and shortlisted for the Encore Award. But, according to publishing experts, his new offering will propel him into New York Times bestseller territory.
"In Belfast I began to read the work of authors such as Bernard McLaverty, the poetry of John Hewitt and Louis MacNeice and the essays of Edna Longley," said Lee.
"Before that, at university, I'd studied the poetry of the late Seamus Heaney and others.
"So I guess my first taste of Northern Ireland was through literature."