Friday, June 24, 2011

Stuart Neville, who formerly worked as a hand double for a "well-known Irish comedian," has written a brilliant, atmospheric first novel set against the continuing "troubles" in Northern Ireland.

In the public eye at least, the men who fought the brutal battles of the long struggle have now given way to the politicians and peace is in the wind. But behind the scenes there are still scores to be settled and discipline to be maintained. Additionally, some of the men who might have once been idealists fighting for a sacred cause have now degenerated into common thugs. And while peace may be at hand, they are determined to protect themselves, their profits and the criminal enterprises they have created.

Into this combustible mix steps Gerry Fegan, an IRA killer who has recently been released from prison. Fegan, who was once one of the most feared men in Northern Ireland, is now drinking heavily, apparently slipping into psychosis, and losing his edge. He is now more pitied than feared by those who knew him in the old days.

But Fegan is a changed man. More important, he finds himself haunted by the ghosts of twelve innocent people that he killed while carrying out his missions for the IRA. These ghosts of Belfast will not let Fegan rest until he has avenged their deaths by killing the men who gave the orders that led to their deaths.

In an effort to salve his conscience, and in the hope of getting the ghosts to leave him in peace, Fegan sets about the task of taking revenge against the men who were once his masters. By doing so, he threatens not only his targets, but the entire peace process itself.

Inevitably, then, Fegan becomes a target himself, of his former bosses and of the establishment authorities who are willing to go to any lengths to keep the peace agreement from unraveling. Fairly quickly the question becomes whether Fegan can complete his mission and satisfy the spirits who torment him before his enemies catch up to him. And along the way, Fegan also begins a very tentative relationship with a woman and her young daughter who may represent his last chance at redemption.

Stuart Neville has a rare gift with language, and this book is beautifully written. The scenes are well set; the characters are expertly drawn, and you will not soon forget them. This is a bloody, violent, and ultimately heart-breaking book, and once it takes hold of you, it will not let go.        

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