Art fraud; the Antwerp diamond trade; Irish neutrality during the Second World War; the IRA bombing campaign in London during the 1970s: apparently unrelated themes that come together in the plot of my new novel, Long Time Coming. I can’t reveal exactly how they come together without spoiling a lot of surprises that lie in store for you, but just a few secrets can be divulged at this stage, so here they are.
With dead animals in tanks fetching fantastic sums on the international art market, it’s hard not to sympathize to some degree with those who resort to forgery to exploit buyers’ gullibility, but the deception practised by 1940s art dealer Geoffrey Cardale is of a more devious order and it sets off the central character of our story, Eldritch Swan, on the road to ruin. Or is it redemption? One of the pleasures of developing a tale spanning more than twenty years is the opportunity it offers to explore characters’ personalities over time: to place plot in the context of people’s entire lives and to investigate how it changes them, for good or bad - and sometimes for both.
So, right from the start, my idea for this book involved two different periods of action: one in 1940, one in 1976. The tortured course of Irish history creates the contrasts between those two periods that form the backdrop to the story. The Republic’s decision to stand aside from the conflict in Europe that broke out in 1939 donated to novelists a host of dramatic possibilities that arise from having British and German diplomats (and quite a few spies as well) operating on an equal footing in Dublin as Britain struggled for survival in the dark days after Dunkirk.
Strangely, those possibilities have not been made much use of in fiction. It’s a gap I’ve enjoyed filling. And, as Eldritch Swan’s nephew, Stephen, discovers as a young man in the 1970s, the events of those wartime years just won’t stay safely confined to the pages of largely unread history books.
Ultimately, that is what this book is about: the heartless way events in the wider world have of wrecking, damaging, distorting and just occasionally salvaging the lives of individual men and women. And it comes with a bonus: you’ll find out why I went to such lengths to establish who was living at 31 Merrion Street, Dublin, in June 1940.
Eldritch Swan is a dead man. Or at least that is what his nephew Stephen has always been told. Until one day Eldritch walks back into his life after 36 years in an Irish prison. He won’t reveal any of the details of his incarceration, insisting only that he is innocent of any crime.
His return should be of interest to no-one. But the visit of a solicitor with a mysterious request will take Eldritch and his sceptical nephew fromsleepy seaside Paignton to London, where an exhibition of Picasso paintings from the prestigious Brownlow collection proves to be the starting point on a journey that will transport them back to the Second World War and the mystery behind Eldritch’s imprisonment.