Drew’s #11 — The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville

The best way I can explain this book is to have one  imagine a picture of a hard, sad, desperate scene that is beautiful.  It’s worth noting that while this book is the first in a series of 3 so far, the afore mentioned quality is unique to this story.  The other 2 (reviews to come) are written in the same style, contain the same detailed imagry, and are tell violent and sometimes tragic stories, but this one stands out.  That said, I spoke too early in a prior review about my number 1 book this year; if you only read one (aside from the Bible or a text book–I strongly encourage either of those before one loses himself in fiction), I strongly reccommend The Ghosts of Belfast.


The story follows an ex-IRA hitman who is tormented by the ghosts of the people he killed in service to the northern Irish Republicans in the 1970’s and 80’s.  His guilt drives him to “atone” for each of his ghosts and, in doing so, catches the attention of his old associates who are now trying to reinvent themselves as politicians and more dignified representatives of their “noble” cause.  When these factions take steps to keep the protagonist “in-line”, they find that the situation escalates beyond their control.  It should be noted that that the hero is a very good ex-hitman.  The turmoil draws the attention of the police (both good and dirty agents), high level politicians and a young woman with her daughter–who find themselves under the protection of tormented g-man.


But this is not simply an shoot-em-up tale of vengence and gangsters, its a very pointed shot at the nature of so-called freedom-fighters and pokes (very overtly, at times) at the caustic role that spin and biased media can play in blateant terrorism.  This theme is more centered in the second book in the series, but they are clear and disturbing themes.


But what makes this book so unforgetable is the way the author weaves all these elements together.  Most notable is the way he uses the betails to paint the bigger picture.  For instance, it’s not neccessary to tell you simeply that someone is sad if I detail the look in their eyes, the turn of their mouth, the tracks of their tears…  You FEEL the weight of the emotion or circumstance in the way the author weaves the plot.  What’s also intriguing is the way the author plays out the finer threads of the story as the plot progresses.  A man early on may seem like only a background figure, but as the story progresses he may be tied in seamlessly to a bigget piece of the puzzle.  Here, sometimes almost casually, the auther may widen a sidenote into a gaping hole crucial to the story and then fill it seamlessly with what was once an inconsequential detail that’s been teased and developed just enough to make you wonder how you didn’t see it the whole time.


An absolute must read!  Though maybe not for everyone.  It is a dark story.

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