The Ghosts of Belfast, by Stuart Neville. Published 2009 by Soho Crime.
Lately I've been on a bit of a crime-fiction bender, and it doesn't look like I will come in any time soon.
The most recent book I've finished is Stuart Neville's very-good-indeed The Ghosts of Belfast, about IRA veteran Gerry Fagen and his quest for nothing more than peace. Gerry is a "retired" assassin and terrorist for the Irish Republican Army; he served a stint in prison and now times have changed. The IRA, through its political arm the Sinn Fein, wants respectability and the freedom to pursue its criminal agenda unimpeded by its public-relations and law-enforcement difficulties. Gerry wants respite too, from the ghosts of his victims, who continue to haunt him in the form of twelve spirits from his past. (The original title of this book was The Twelve.) Unfortunately, putting these spirits to rest means more people must die.
The first man to die, Michael McKenna, draws the ire of Paul McGinty, a former IRA leader trying to refashion himself as a decent public figure. Suspicions pile up alongside the bodies and soon McGinty and David Campbell, a double agent, are on his trail. Complicating matters is Gerry's relationship with Michael McKenna's niece Marie, on McGinty's bad side after a relationship with a police officer which resulted in a little girl named Ellen. Gerry is drawn to Marie and Ellen and the normal life they represent, but life with Marie and Ellen may be a dream not destined to come true.
From here the book takes off like a shot, a series of fights, flights and suspense. Quite violent and gritty, Neville has written an intense, gripping literary novel about the lives left ruined in the wake of Irish sectarian violence. He paints the IRA as a bloody criminal organization and its members as ruthless greedy thugs, hardly as the romanticized freedom fighters many Irish-Americans think of them being. On the contrary, Neville goes out of his way to disabuse readers of this particular illusion.
I really, really enjoyed this book. As I said, it works as a literary novel as well as a page-turning thrill ride. Neville creates characters that got under my skin- good and bad- and situations I had no idea how to resolve. I just had to keep turning those pages to find out. I strongly recommend The Ghosts of Belfast for readers looking for a really smart thriller, one to keep your paper-flipping-fingers moving as well as your brain.
Neville has a new one coming out this fall, Ratlines; I plan to read it in the next month or two and get back to you around its release date.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Soho Press.