Blood Roses
by Jeanette Baker, contemporary (2002)
MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 1-55166-910-2


The good news? Jeanette Baker's latest, Blood Roses, sees this Irish author returning to the epic-style political stories she is known for. This is not another sunshine-horses-Irish-cowboys yarn. Bad news? The heroine's a moron, the romance is dead (no other way to describe it), and the political complexity of Ireland eventually gets dumbed down into a mad uncle thing.

Kate Nolan is elected by the Prime Minister of England (unnamed, either because Tony Blair threatened to sue or because Americans don't care whether Tony Blair or Tony Curtis is the PM of England, I don't know) to be the omnis - uh, it doesn't matter. Whatever Her Important Job is, you'll only see her harrass policemen for not hiring Catholics and then she's off running up and down Belfast. Later she will even take a trip to America for personal reasons. If she has a job, it's a nice one, because apparently, you work a day a week and spend the rest of the time staring at the wall.

Neil Anderson fares better. He's the British Special Services guy sent down to Northern Ireland to stop IRA-perpetuated crimes like drug dealing and arms smuggling. He and Kate have a thing going, and this I know because of the blue, he declares that he has loved her since he first saw her. I flip back the pages and reread them until my eyes hurt, but I still can't see it. Maybe there are some lines describing their relationship written in secret ink. I'll warm up my iron and let you know if I find anything.

Kate's husband Patrick was a saint, according to the Irish, for his many causes and all. But since this is a romance story, don't worry, people. Jeanette Baker will drag the corpse of Patrick through prime Irish sludge soon enough, because heroines can only become stronger only after they learn that they have been deceived for years. The men in Kate's family are in some shady deals and they have been taking her for granted all the time, but she doesn't know that. Her son is doing drugs and dealing, and when she knows, she doesn't do anything but to either pray to God and live in denial, or just whimper helplessly. Her daughter Deirdre is a smarter woman, and she's going out with a Protestant boy. This Protestant boy is the token "I love Protestants too!" statement by Jeanette Baker, as there is some anti-Protestant sentiment in this story that will put some people off. Although if you ask me, such sentiment's understandable when you read them in the context of this story.

So what does Kate know? What does Kate do? I don't know. She's a lousy mother and a pathetic government officer.

"You're intelligent," Neil tells her.

"You're my role model," her daughter tells her.

"You're intelligent," the chorus line tells her.

People, stop encouraging her.

Blood Roses tries and to an extent succeeds in portraying the political situation in Ireland. At the same time, with a too-passive heroine taking centerstage and mollycoddled by everyone and a plot that becomes more and more predictable and stereotypical as it progresses, this story neither breaks new grounds nor offers a decent reinterpretation of an old plotline. Good intentions it may have, but hey, sometimes good intentions aren't enough.

Rating: 74


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