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Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Ghosts of Belfast

I just finished a terrifically tense thriller called The Ghosts of Belfast, a debut novel by Stuart Neville. As the title implies, it's about the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland, and also has a supernatural imprint.

The book is about Gerry Fegan, a one-time assassin for the IRA. He's done in time in Maze prison and is now a feeble drunk. It seems he has been haunted for years by the spirits of twelve people he killed. They follow him everywhere--even into the john. Eventually he comes to realize they want him to kill the men who were responsible for ordering their deaths. Only then will they leave him alone. Neville brilliantly imagines these wraiths--they remind me of the bereaved ghosts that Marley points out to Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, as they weep and wail over the poor and destitute.

This is a deliciously nifty idea for a book, and is especially trenchant given the setting. I'm somewhat knowledgeable about Irish history, but I would imagine this means more to someone who can understand what all the acronyms mean (I was barely able to distinguish between "Republicans" and "Loyalists"). It's clear that Neville believes that, though there is a peace now, the thugs have simply moved into politics.

As Fegan sets about settling scores--"Everyone must pay," he is told, and transmits to his victims, he becomes interested in a woman, who has been ostracized since her brief romance with a Protestant policeman. The woman has a small girl, and some of the redemption for Fegan as he relates to the child is a bit much, sentimentally speaking. But the scenes of violence are crackerjack in their intensity, especially the climax, set an old farm where fighting dogs are bred.

According to the book jacket this is the first book in a series, but I think this one stands on its own. It's a fine work, for fans of ghost stories, shoot 'em ups, or those interested in the Irish situation.

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