Book Review: “The Ghosts of Belfast” / “Collusion” by Stuart Neville.

Ghosts of BelfastSummer has returned to the North Country with days of green and growing trees and grass. Mornings are filled with the songs of birds. At night, we go to sleep to a chorus of frogs.

Our feeders are busy with goldfinches again. Their bright gold blessing our days.

Everything seems as it should again.

While in Northern Ireland, I read a book Sue found for me on BookBub by Stuart Neville called The Ghosts of Belfast. Upon returning home I found the sequel and read it, Collusion.

Stuart Neville is hard-boiled heaven. And the world of post-Troubles Northern Ireland is the perfect hard-boiled setting for a writer as good as Neville.

The Ghosts of Belfast centers around an IRA hitman now out of prison and trying to rid himself of 12 ghosts that haunt him. Mayhem ensues. Collusion is the sequel.

CollusionThose who have read book reviews here before know that when I “review” a book, I seldom say much about the plot. There are, to my mind, a thousand resources already available on the internet that summarize the plots of books. And since most book reviews are just that, a plot summary, I have found no compelling reason to further clutter the blogosphere with my own clumsy plot summaries.

What I try to pay attention to here is writing style, dialogue, and tone.

Neville is a writer, not a spinner of yarns. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy yarn-spinners. Books by popular authors like Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy are fun and can be almost impossible to put down. But they seldom haunt you the way a book by a great writer can.

In the same way that Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald used post-Prohibition California to explore the seedy and violent underbelly of wealth and power, Neville uses post-Troubles Belfast and Northern Ireland to explore the corruption, hypocrisy, and violence of Northern Ireland after the peace.

While Neville’s setting may seem obvious, his writing does not. It has that elusive thing that the best Noir writing always does, that good writing of any kind always does. Something that Neville describes perfectly in this line from The Ghosts of Belfast.

He had never thought it possible to feel terror and stillness in the same heart, but both beat in his chest as they walked among the green lawns and the budding flowers.

That simultaneous feeling of terror and stillness is what lies at the center of all real Art, all mystical experiences. It is what makes us love and cherish a good writer. And Neville is a good writer, whether you are reading him in Northern Ireland or anywhere.

Some great lines from The Ghosts of Belfast

The followers were there when Fegan looked up from the letter, watching. He told one of the prison psychologists about it. Dr. Brady said it was guilt. A manifestation, he called it. Fegan wondered why people seldom called things by their real names.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Students gathered in huddles on the grass on one side, and on the concrete steps on the other. Young, pretty people Fegan would never know. It occurred to him that most of these children had never been torn from sleep by a bomb blast in the night, the force of it hammering their windows like a thousand fists, freezing their hearts in their chests. For a moment he might have resented them for it, but then he felt Ellen’s fingers adjust their grip on his, and he was glad for them. He thought of Ellen as a young woman, and how she would never comprehend the awful, constant fear that had smothered this place for more than thirty years.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The politicians were too busy pandering to the bigotry of their constituents to solve the issues, and the paramilitaries were making too much money to consider any other way.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Fegan knew he would be searched if he went near the terminal. Security was tighter now than it ever had been at the height of the Troubles. A war in a desert thousands of miles away frightened them more than a war on their doorstep.

* * * * * * * * * * *

“It’s time to pay for what you did.” The cop turned back to Fegan. Tears mixed with sweat on his cheeks. “But you killed him. Not me.” Fegan blinked. “I just pulled the trigger. He was dead as soon as you fingered him.” Anderson shook his head. “You’re insane.” “I know. But I’m getting better all the time.” Fegan pulled the trigger.





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