I was all set to visit Belfast and then I had to go and follow Irish crime writer Declan Burke’s advice and read Stuart Neville’s astonishing debut novel The Ghosts of Belfast. This tautly constructed thriller, originally published in the UK as The Twelve, reflects the complexity of contemporary Northern Ireland in the “post-Troubles” era.
Like a Shakespearian revenge tragedy scripted by Quentin Tarantino, Neville’s novel unflinchingly exposes post-ceasefire Belfast as a confused and contradictory place trying to establish itself as a modern European capital and travel destination amidst a tenuous peace recognized as hypocritical by much of the population. Neville goes to the heart of institutionalized terror and the price a country pays for its past.
Fegan, the “hero” of this genre-bending noir-ish thriller, is a former IRA hitman now being literally haunted by the ghosts of twelve of his innocent victims. In order to appease them, he has to execute the men who gave him his orders. Fegan’s crusade for redemption plays out with stomach-churning tension across the tableau of Belfast old and new, from the docklands on the Belfast Lough to the nightclubs of the shining Odyssey complex.
Stuart Neville’s novel is not just a flat-out thriller but a Dostoyevsky-like exploration of age old themes of crime, guilt, punishment, justice and personal responsibility. And Neville has made it impossible to visit Belfast without Fegan’s ghostly chorus as tour guides.
You can find deleted “scenes” from the thriller on Stuart Neville’s blog atStuart Neville’s web site