‘High Dive’ by Jonathan Lee (2016) – 318 pages
Somehow I missed the news story of the Grand Brighton Hotel bombing when it actually occurred. The United States was right in the midst of its Presidential and other elections of 1984 when it occurred on October 12, 1984, and the media here gets obsessed with our own elections to the exclusion of all else. Anyhow the then ruling Conservative Party in Great Britain was holding its annual conference at the Grand Brighton Hotel. The Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was there along with her husband Dennis as well as many other government dignitaries. Unbeknownst to them, the Provisional Irish Republican Army had planted a big bomb with a long delay timer within the hotel weeks before, set to go off at exactly 2:51 AM on October 12. The bomb did explode as planned doing severe damage to the hotel, and five people staying in the hotel were killed and dozens were injured. Margaret Thatcher and her husband Dennis were unharmed, although their room was damaged.
‘High Dive’ is a vivid audacious fictional account of this incident. There are three main characters. We have Dennis who is one of the IRA guys who set the bomb, Moose Finch who is the assistant general manager at the Grand Brighton Hotel, and his eighteen year old daughter Freya who is working at the reception desk at the hotel over summer.
I knew I was going to really like ‘High Dive’ when I found out that the hair salon where Freya goes is called Curl Up and Dye. The writing here is wicked and lively, and there is a surprising delightful curve ball in nearly every sentence. While I was reading ‘High Dive’, especially for the first 200 or so pages, I got this strong sense of exhilaration that I only get when I am reading the best novels. Jonathan Lee has a strong empathy for his characters and his handling of scenes is especially well done.
‘High Dive’ is not a technical thriller in any sense of the term. The actual wiring and planting of the bomb or any of the details regarding the bomb are not even covered in the novel. Instead ‘High Dive’ is a novel about the emotional lives of the people listed above.
After the bomb is planted at the Hotel, it is a matter of waiting for the ultimate explosion. As the pages mount up as we are awaiting the detonation of the bomb, the high energy of the novel dissipates somewhat. Although as I said before, Jonathan Lee has great empathy for his people, the everyday events that Dennis, Moose, and Freya deal with at the hotel are almost too mundane to carry the novel.
But overall ‘High Dive’ is an exceptionally strong performance, and I expect most everyone will feel curiously uplifted by this vivid and devilishly well-written story about a bomb.