Marty Ransom is an Irish diplomat working in Dublin and later in Paris during the 1960s and the troubled 1970s that followed. He is a man whose loyalties are deeply divided. He loves his country, but he has served in the British army and was brought up in a strongly Anglo-Irish tradition. His private life is equally torn. He has a beautiful wife and children he adores, plus a home in Dublin and a family estate in the south east of Ireland. But his long-standing friendship with Alison, who works for the British Home Office and later in their embassy in Dublin, threatens to undermine everything he holds dear. Alison and her husband are frequent weekend guests of Marty and his wife, but it is only the bond between Marty and Alison that holds the four together.
As tensions grow in the north, Marty is approached by the Irish Minister for Finance, Charles Haughey, to act as a channel of communication with a new IRA faction, a faction in which Marty's cousin is a key player. Marty is also asked by Alison to keep her informed of his links with Haughey and of his day-to-day work in the Department of External Affairs. Marty comes to realise that Alison is working for the British intelligence service, but where's the harm in exchanges of information about issue of mutual concern? When unrest in the north develops into bloody violence, people are forced to choose sides. Suddenly Marty finds himself having to make decisions that will have life and death consequences, and his relatively calm and ordered existence is challenged like never before.
"Acts of Allegiance" by Peter Cunningham tells's Marty's story in a gripping way, and in doing so it also illuminates a deeply damaging and damaged period in Ireland's history. The central characters of Marty, his wife Sugar, and Alison are beautifully drawn, and we really feel Marty's anguish as circumstances beyond his control carry him from comfort and certainty to danger and despair, and to a central role in a war he wants no part of. The story is told through a highly fragmented timeline. We are cast forwards and backwards in time by the author, from Marty's childhood in the early 1950s to his life in the 1960s and 1970s, and back again. The geographical settings are initially mainly in Dublin and south east Ireland, and there are later excursions to London, Paris, Armagh and elsewhere. The only constant throughout is the oscillating timeline. The effect of this is to keep the reader actively engaged in rearranging the pieces to make sense of the emerging story, and the result is a book that becomes ever more compelling as the number of available fragments grows and you are drawn towards its devastating conclusion.