24 May 2010

Review: THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST, Stuart Neville

Soho Press (US) 2009
Published in the UK by Harvill Secker Random House as THE TWELVE
ISBN 978-1-56947-600-0
326 pages

Maybe if he had one more drink they'd leave him alone. Gerry Fegan told himself that lie before every swallow..... No. They were still there, still staring. Twelve of them if he counted the baby in its mother's arms.

Fegan is still a respected man in West Belfast, despite the drink. His constant companions wherever he goes though are the shadows of those he killed: five soldiers, a policeman, two Loyalists, and four civilians who'd been in the wrong place at the wrong time. The ghosts are demanding that he pay his debts. Gerry Fegan knows that means killing those whose orders he had been carrying out.

The first is relatively easy: Mick McKenna, once an IRA fighter but now a politician. Down at the old shipyard, no CCTV, no people, just two bullets. After that there's only 11 shadows.
What Gerry Fegan can't take into account is Marie McKenna, Mick's niece, and her young daughter Ellen. And between them they threaten to bring Gerry's plans unravelled.

The structure of THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST is an interesting one. As Gerry works to rid himself of the ghosts, Stuart Neville explores the fragile peace that's broken out in the last decade or so in Northern Ireland. Corruption, violence, and guilt simmer just below the surface. The Minister of State for Northern Ireland and the Chief Constable are fearful that McKenna's assassination will cause an outbreak of a war of retribution.

THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST is Stuart Neville's debut novel and won the Mystery/Thriller category of the 2010 Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

It is one of a literal wave of Irish noir thrillers.

My rating 4.7 despite the fact that it is a little more noir than my usual reading fare.

Other reviews to check:
International Noir Fiction
Mystery Fanfare
Detectives Beyond Borders
Crime Always Pays

Visit the author's website: read an excerpt, watch a trailer, read some reviews.


Stuart Neville said...


First of all, many thanks for the great review, I really appreciate it. Just one thing, though: the quote near the end kind of gives away one of the story's major twists. For those that haven't read the book yet, might it be an idea to edit that a little?



Kerrie said...

Sorry Stuart - it is gone. It was a great read.

Dorte H said...

I am not in favour of noir and ghosts usually, but I can imagine if there are any (ghosts, I mean), they would gather in Belfast.

Anonymous said...

Kerrie - Thanks for this review. I'm not usually drawn to noir, but this one sounds intriguing.. Thanks

Stuart Neville said...

Kerrie - Thanks so much.


Maxine Clarke said...

Nice review, Kerrie. This one (known in my parts as "the 12" is definitely on my list - slightly outside my regular "zone" too, but the reviews have been so good I must read it. Interesting this old definitions saga - I recently read a book described as "noir" (Water Blue Eyes) and would not call it noir at all, in the slightest even. Oh well!

Kerrie said...

I'm using "noir" in the sense of "hard and gritty", a bit "dark" Maxine. In the acknowledgements Stuart mentions some fellow noir writers, particularly Irish ones - some of whom I've read- like Adrian McKinty, Declan Burke, and Gerrard Brennan.

Kerrie said...

Margot - the structure is interesting. Stories related to the 12 shadows, held together by Fegan's quest to kill those who gave him the orders. It reminded me a bit of the structure of Agatha Christie's THE BIG FOUR.


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