It is autumn 1942, and young Balbriggan teacher Matt Duggan arrives on his first posting at the small town of Rathisland in the Irish midlands, barely alive to the global war raging outside.
Lawn tennis alternates with Church and classroom politics, as rehearsals take place for a staging of Hamlet.
Beneath the surface are pockets of support for Germany, and plans afoot to link up with the Wehrmacht. Matt has a mesmerizing first encounter with nineteen-year-old Madelene Coll and, as she edges her way out from the watchful eyes of her aunts, she and Matt enter a world they will remember for the rest of their lives.
When a Messerschmitt crash-lands in the locality that world is knocked from its axis. Before long the inherent contradictions of Emergency Ireland boil to the surface, involving Matt and Madelene in a misadventure with deeply tragic consequences.
This nuanced coming-of-age story rehearses the inner narrative of neutral Ireland as public perception contends with private experience in a series of convergent tableaux. Beautifully evoked and implosive, divided personal loyalties mirror the wider dramas of the wider European stage. South of the Border is a gem of narrative that brings the reader into the heart of a reality that was wartime Ireland.
This is the work of a major historical novelist.