Saturday, January 7, 2012

'The Ghosts of Belfast' is Suspenseful and Haunting


Review: THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST
Author: Stuart Neville (Soho Crime 2009)

Ages and ages and ages A little over a year ago, I wrote a review of a novel called COLLUSION by Stuart Neville for Mystery Scene Magazine. I loved it so much, I swore I'd read the book that preceded it, if it was the last thing I ever did.

Fortunately, it hasn't quite come to that. Ha ha ha ...

Anyway, this novel opens with Gerry Fegan getting drunk off his ass, which he does all the time. Fegan is, in point of fact, a stone killer who murdered many people during the The Troubles in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the story takes place (of course). Fegan has served time in the Maze prison and has been released. However, there's a reason Fegan has become a freaking drunk bit of a rummy. He is a man haunted by the ghosts of those he's killed -- the innocents who died by his hand for the causes of others -- other people who must pay the piper.

So ... Fegan goes about whacking seeking retribution from people whose orders he blindly followed. And with each execution retribution, another ghost bites the dust vanishes. Convenient! Well, for a while, anyway. Ha ha ha ...

In any case, Fegan's series of retributions become a thorn in the side of the powers that be. Politicians (new and old guard) and another more mysterious faction (ooh, complicated!) who see his crusade as a threat to the uneasy peace that's been struck in Northern Ireland. Thus, they will do anything to stop him, including terminating Fegan with extreme prejudice.

To do this, the mysterious faction enlists the help of a renegade Scotsman named Campbell, who's about as mean a bastard fellow as Fegan. The two are about equally matched as opposing forces can be. Fegan ends up doing all sorts things to elude/outwit/fight him off. The plot is, needless to say, highly suspenseful and tension-filled. And can get pretty bloody bloody. :)

Thing is Fegan is the one the reader is rooting for, because he's the protagonist. His humanity is best expressed in his relationship with Marie McKenna and her child, Ellen. Marie has been shunned by her family due to her shagging relationship with a British peeler, aka cop. And Ellen is the result of their, um, merger relationship. So Fegan and Marie are naturally drawn to each other like two lost souls grasping for lifelines.

When you come down to it, all the characters have a touch of that humanity to them. That's what raises this story beyond the level of a suspenseful and bloody crime fiction read, to something that resonates with the reader long after you reach the book's stunning climactic bloodbath at the farm I kept reading about in the sequel. Now, I finally know what that was about! :)

And, honestly, who'd have thought a scene with a stone killer, a mother and her child could actually bring a tear to a hardboiled crime writer's eye?

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