Friday, January 01, 2010

Mystery Book Review: The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville

by
Non-series

Soho Crime (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-56947-600-4 (1569476004)
ISBN-13: 978-1-56947-600-0 (9781569476000)
Publication Date: October 2009
List Price: $25.00

Review: Stuart Neville offers an unusual twist on the serial killer thriller with his debut novel The Ghosts of Belfast.

Gerry Fagen is a man tormented by his past. An IRA terrorist who was not only good at his "job", but seemed to revel in it, he's now haunted by the souls of 12 innocent people who lost their lives as a consequence of his actions, his self-described followers. Respected by his former colleagues -- some of whom have taken prominent posts in Ireland's government, some of whom remain true to the cause and long for the days when terror ruled the day -- Fagen is left alone to drown his pain at the local pub. Until he kills one of the men he holds ultimately responsible for the deaths of one of his innocents ... and the number of his followers drops to 11. Fagen realizes that he can only find inner peace when he kills those members who either ordered, or were present at the time of, the innocents' deaths, but his former colleagues think Fagen has gone mad and is a threat to their current way of life. And before Fagen can expose them, they are determined to kill him first.

There is no denying that The Ghosts of Belfast is brilliantly written with expressive narrative and crisp dialog. The characters are multi-layered, complex, and intricately drawn; the setting appropriately atmospheric, dark and dank, suitably mysterious. Even the potentially baffling politics of The Troubles and subsequent uneasy peace in Northern Ireland, against which the action takes place, are handled in a understandable manner. From a technical perspective, it's nearly flawless. The problem here is the story. Though the plot is well conceived, it isn't developed much, if at all, after the first 70 pages or so, when the number of followers drops from the original twelve to nine (and will, predictably, drop to zero at the end). "Who's next," Fagen asks his followers at this point. Who indeed. It gets a little repetitive here. To be sure, there is more, but it takes the form of a completely unnecessary, even intrusive, subplot involving Fagen's relationship with a woman that is overlaid on the main story, seemingly written as an afterthought to support a plot point towards the end, but isn't truly integrated and adds little substantive.

A tough call here: there is so much to like about The Ghosts of Belfast that it deserves a recommendation but with the caveat that the storyline doesn't really deliver all that it could.

Special thanks to Soho Press for providing a copy of The Ghosts of Belfast for this review.

Review Copyright © 2010 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved

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Synopsis (from the publisher): Fegan has been a “hard man,” an IRA killer in northern Ireland. Now that peace has come, he is being haunted day and night by twelve ghosts: a mother and infant, a schoolboy, a butcher, an RUC constable, and seven other of his innocent victims. In order to appease them, he’s going to have to kill the men who gave him orders.

As he’s working his way down the list he encounters a woman who may offer him redemption; she has borne a child to an RUC officer and is an outsider too. Now he has given Fate -- and his quarry -- a hostage. Is this Fegan’s ultimate mistake?

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