Brothers in blood
Crime: Those We Left Behind, Stuart Neville, Harvill Secker, hdbk, 368 pages, £12.99
Published 19/07/2015 | 02:30
Stuart Neville ramps up the tension in his second novel since returning from a severe case of writer's block.
Stuart Neville burst on to the Irish crime fiction scene almost fully-formed. His technically assured , beautifully written and dramatically different 2009 debut was The Twelve, the story of Gerry Fegan, a paramilitary killer quite literally haunted by the voices of his victims screaming in his head.
To silence them, Fegan sets about eliminating those who engineered their deaths - from greedy politicians to corrupt policemen, street thugs to complacent bystanders. But Fegan's deadly campaign threatens to derail Northern Ireland's fragile peace process and destabilise its fledgling government, so old comrades and enemies alike want him gone. Collusion, the equally violent sequel to The Twelve, copper-fastened Neville's reputation as one of crime fiction's hottest new talents.
Then, in 2013, in Ratlines, Neville took his fiction in a completely new direction. Set here in the Republic of Ireland in 1963, Ratlines featured a threat to the life of a former Nazi colonel, Otto Skorzeny, who had settled in Ireland after World War II and became a wealthy and influential businessman thanks, apparently, to a combination of stolen Nazi gold and the protection of a thrusting young politician called Charles Haughey.
A tough, intricately plotted tension-filled thriller, it didn't back away from the fact that many Irish people had supported the Nazi cause or the venality of some Irish politicians.
After his next gritty thriller, Stolen Souls, an uncompromising look at the sex trade and people-trafficking in Northern Ireland, Neville developed a severe case of writer's block. He started and abandoned at least two novels.
Eventually, a sad family event got his creative juices flowing once again. An elderly relative had died and Neville undertook to help clear out her house. It got him to thinking "how the average person would feel if they knew someone was going through their most personal and intimate possessions, discovering the kinds of secrets we all keep". This thought spurred last year's electrifying The Final Silence, in which a young woman inherits a house from an uncle and finds a locked room that contains a terrifying secret, a secret that many will kill to keep from becoming public.
In Those We Left Behind, his sixth novel, Neville brings Belfast-based DCI Serena Flanagan, a relatively minor figure in last year's offering, to the fore. Flanagan is forced to confront a troubling case from her past when Ciaran Devine is released from a juvenile detention centre. Seven years earlier, when he was 12, Ciaran had confessed to bludgeoning his foster father to death, a crime that had shocked Northern Ireland.
His probation officer, Paula Cunningham, who now has to reintroduce the troubled youngster to society, is convinced his older brother, who got a shorter sentence because of the confession, has an unnatural hold over Ciaran. When she brings her fears to Serena Flanagan, she sets in motion a deadly chain of events that threaten both women's lives and families.
Once again, Neville ratchets up the tension to an almost unbearable level while managing to draw his characters with compassion and humanity.