The Lost Boys by Lyra McKee
(Faber, 2020)

The Lost Boys

by Lyra McKee

“When you lost someone in the Troubles, you had a story you could tell. There was a beginning, a middle, and an end. He lived, she died – because he was Catholic, Protestant, in the IRA, in the police, in a Loyalist gang – and we miss her, every day. Beginning, middle, end.

With the boys, though, there was only the beginning of a story. They got up. They left home for school. They went to the bus stop. The bus came. They weren’t there. They never came home.”

Eight boys went missing in Belfast between 1969 and 1975. These weren’t victims of the IRA or the UVF; they weren’t “disappeared” by the paramilitaries. These boys belong to a different category. They were indirect victims of the armed struggle, the people who vanish and are never found during a war, because the police and the judicial service have other priorities.

The Lost Boys is a book about the Troubles, and about Belfast over the last fifty years, which orbits the stories of these disappearances, with a focus on the case of Thomas Spence and John Rodgers, aged 11 and 13, who vanished at a bus stop near the Falls Road in West Belfast in November 1974. The author, Lyra McKee, has a theory about what happened to them. Lyra is a 27-year-old investigative journalist who grew up on Belfast’s Cliftonville Road, just off the infamous Murder Mile, the area which saw more casualties per square foot than any other part of the city during the Troubles. Lyra is fascinated by the recent history of the city; her focus as a journalist is the indirect ways the violence of war plays out, through its secondary waves of victims, and through the way trauma is passed on to subsequent generations. Like Anna Funder’s Stasiland and Andy O’Hagan’s The Missing, The Lost Boys will be an investigation, but also a portrait of a place; of Belfast and of the Troubles, at the first moment in time where it’s become possible to write about them historically (as well as, alas, a moment where tensions are rising once again).