Gene Lyons
September 21, 1990 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Lies of Silence

Current Status
In Season
Brian Moore
Fiction, Mystery and Thriller

We gave it an A

According to the publicity for Brian Moore’s Lies of Silence, Graham Greene has designated the expatriate native of Belfast as his ”favorite living novelist.” No wonder. As the patron saint of bad faith and impossible situations, Greene himself couldn’t have crafted a more compelling example of the antiheroic thriller than Moore’s latest: the drama of an ordinary man with a rather more than ordinarily muddled sex life who is trapped in a politically charged situation in which all his options are bad ones.

In his youth, Michael Dillon, the protagonist of Moore’s 16th novel, planned to become a poet. He’s had the bar of the Belfast hotel he manages decorated with photographs of Irish bards and singers. By the age of 38, however, Dillon realizes that, as with his father and grandfather, ”his ambition in life had shrunk to a vision of himself as a head flunky in morning clothes, a glori ed servant, condemned to smile and turn the other cheek.”

Dillon’s marriage to the exceptionally beautiful Moira has turned to gall and mutual recrimination. Obsessed by the idea that Dillon married her only for the envy she excites in other men’s eyes, and fearful that her beauty is fading, Moira has become bulimic and despairing. ”Nothing I do suits you,” she shouts at him. ”You hate me, you hate this house. . . you hate your own country.” Though he doesn’t hate his wife, Dillon comes home one night meaning to announce that he has fallen in love with a young Canadian reporter and plans to follow her to London. After a shattering row, he loses his courage. He will tell Moira in the morning.

But by morning, Dillon needs a different sort of courage. During the night their little home in the tidy suburbs of Belfast has been invaded by the bloody-minded boyos of the Irish Republican Army. Having ascertained that hotel security routinely waves the manager’s car through the daily search for suspicious packages, the revolutionaries have conceived a plan: Dillon will drive to work exactly on time and park in his usual place beneath the Clarence’s dining room. He will then leave the lot, speaking to no one. After the bomb explodes, Moira will be released unharmed. Should he deviate from the plan, she will be murdered. Regardless of which way he turns, Dillon seems fated to end up with blood on his hands. The question is, whose?

Flawlessly plotted and written with a spare eloquence familiar to readers of Moore’s previous novels, Lies of Silence needs no superheated rhetoric to hold readers grimly fascinated by its haunting evocation of the modern condition. Desperately wishing to reenter the ”safe anonymous river of ordinary life,” Dillon can find no easy way back. Possibly none exists, the logic of Moore’s memorable novel seems to imply, in a world where only fanatics know exactly what they think. A

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