So Say the Fallen is a crime/police procedural novel, and I enjoyed it, but The Ghosts of Belfast is in another category altogether. It is an important book about a period in Northern Ireland that resonates with the problems many countries are facing today.
Gerry Fegan , a "hard man" and former IRA assassin, was responsible for the deaths of twelve people, including innocent civilians. When released from prison, Fegan tries to repress the past, drinks heavily, and has trouble sleeping. Haunted by the twelve individuals he has killed, Fegan is a shell of a man who sees ghosts--and the ghosts are demanding revenge. The ghosts view Fegan as a tool, and wordlessly, they demand that he kill those who gave the orders or were in some way responsible for their individual deaths.
For seven years after his release from prison, Fegan resists the ghosts, but when Michael McKenna tries to draw him back into the game--now more criminal and less political--Fegan breaks. McKenna is the first to die--leaving Fegan with only eleven ghosts seeking revenge. Fegan's vendetta, however, could disrupt the peace process, and he becomes a target from both sides, but his ghosts are relentless in their quest. Guilt and the possibility of redemption drive Fegan. No, not even redemption, but at least he hopes that appeasing the ghosts will set him free.
The Ghosts of Belfast is a crime novel with psychological and supernatural elements. It is novel about political terrorism, The Troubles, the "disappeared," the brutality and murders committed by the various paramilitaries on both sides--even as the fragile possibility of a resolution was in process.
Brutal and terrifying and strangely moving, The Ghosts of Belfast gives an intimate look at the violence and the effects of violence on the people of Belfast. Neville does not spare either side--both sides were guilty of atrocities. Even now, Belfast is a divided city, physically and emotionally, still dealing with what took place during those 30 + years and the damage to the psyches of not only those who suffered from the violence, but on those who committed acts of violence as well.
This article explains why Northern Ireland has the highest suicide rate in the UK.
A New York Times Notable Book and Winner of The Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Neville's debut remains "a flat-out terror trip" (James Ellroy) and "one of the best Irish novels, in any genre, of recent times" (John Connolly).
Barry Award Nominee for Best First Novel (2010), Macavity Award Nominee for Best First Mystery Novel (2010), Anthony Award Nominee for Best First Novel (2010), Dilys Award Nominee (2010), Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller (2009)
Other good books I've read that deal with the period known as The Troubles:
The Bird Woman by Kerrie Hardy
Shadows on Our Skin by Jennifer Johnston
The Birdwatcher by William Shaw (from NetGalley; review scheduled for June, 2017)
Another good article about this period by Anthony Quinn, who grew up during The Troubles and has written a book I'm adding to my list.
It is one of those strange coincidences that I had just been reading Yeats when I started this book. I think a line from The Second Coming best illustrates the senseless bloodshed during The Troubles and that is currently happening in the world.
"The best lack all conviction, while the worstAre full of passionate intensity."
Crime/Historical. 2009. 337 pages.