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Friday, October 2, 2009

“The Ghosts of Belfast” by Stuart Neville (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Stuart Neville Website
Order "Ghosts of Belfast" HERE

INTRODUCTION: Stuart Neville has made his US debut with "The Ghosts of Belfast" on October 1st 2009. This book was released as "The Twelve" in the UK. The US publication of this story is by Soho Press. To celebrate the release of the novel, Mr. Neville offers free a pdf release of his short story collection "The Six".

The novel stands at 326 pages which are divided into 61 chapters with no prologue or epilogue. The story also has a reverse breakdown of its content beginning with the number twelve & counting down. All chapters are told from the third person perspective & feature the main protagonist as well as many other characters.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Author John Connolly alerted me to this book & based on the premise, which is that of an Irish hit-man who has to exorcise his 12 demons by killing his former allies and masters, reeled me into getting it. I finished this book in an evening as I just could not seem to stop and go to sleep. I finally finished the book at 1:35 am & then re-read it a couple of days later just to see whether it would still hold my interest. To my surprise it still rocked & here I'm writing about it.

Stuart Neville begins this tale with Gerry Fegan who is also the central protagonist of the story. He's a guy who tries to drown his memories and guilt at the bar. At this point the reader might assume that this is a cliched character in a stereotypical setting. What will surprise & draw the reader into this tale is the fact that Fegan's guilty memories stand in front of him every day in the form of 12 specters & bemoan his existence. Up till now he has no clue as to how to be rid of them.

Opportunity arises when he is taken to task about his boozy shenanigans by an old associate of his. It's from here that a solution to his predicament arises as one of the twelve shows him a way out. It might be a route which Fegan has effortlessly traced years earlier however he is a bit reluctant to do so now due to his guilt and because the recipient is a former friend as well.

It is from this solid beginning that the author pulls us along this tale of deceit, politics & grey characters. There are various POV characters in this book & they are

Gerry Fegan, the central protagonist & ex-hit man literally haunted by his ghosts. He just wants to live his life in peace & is given a chance to do so but at the cost of more murder & more damage to his broken psyche.

Davy Campbell, The Scottish mercenary who has crossed paths with Fegan & the so-called freedom fighters, has now returned for a final task, must bring all of his wits and skills to fore if he is to compete the difficult task given to him & escape with his life

Eddie Hargreaves, the harassed minister for state of Northern Ireland, whose position gets unstable by the day due to the Gerry Fegan's actions & whose outlook on the events produces a certain comic interlude between the grim happenings of the novel.

There are a couple other characters as well who have 1-2 POV chapters, however their scenes are intermingled with at least Fegan or Campbell or both. The storyline is a dark and foreboding one with no actual heroes; Gerry Fegan is more of a typical anti-hero who is alleviating his guilt by killing more people.

Davey Campbell acts as a violent counterfoil to Gerry as they continue to head towards a confrontation of which the outcome is unclear. This novel is also tinged with a lot with issues of the political history and goings on in Northern Ireland & will add a lot to a person who is acquainted with the bloody history of Northern Ireland.

In the end I would heavily recommend this book as great thriller debut with paranormal overtones as the author never confirms or denies the presence of the spectral twelve. The readers will have to figure out for themselves in the end whether Gerry's redemptive efforts were actually successful or were just a cruel joke on his psyche.

Another astonishing read & with a sequel tentatively title "Collusion", I look forward to returning to this world created by Stuart wherein the characters come in all shades & all actions have consequences, both calamitous & consolatory.


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