The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville: A review

The Ghosts of Belfast (Jack Lennon Investigations #1)The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gerry Fegan is a haunted man. The former IRA "hard man" can't escape or turn off the memories of the people he has killed, particularly the innocent and those who didn't need to die.

The Troubles in Northern Ireland had no place for mercy and Fegan had tortured and killed, without compunction, at the behest of his bosses in the movement, those who engineered the deaths of others but never got their hands bloody. Now he is followed day and night by the shadows of twelve people that he killed - twelve people who are seeking vengeance through Fegan against those who ordered and caused their deaths. The only way he will ever find peace is to give them their vengeance, turning his skill in the art of killing against those who directed his activities in the past.

Gerry Fegan, when we meet him, has recently been released from prison, where he served seven years. Prison and all that he experienced there changed him. He has developed a conscience.

He has tried to find release from his torment through liquor, a familiar path in the culture of Northern Ireland. It hasn't helped and now he is seemingly a hopeless drunk and maybe more than a bit insane.

One day, as he goes to visit his mother's grave - the mother who was ashamed of him and who refused to see him on her deathbed - he meets an old lady in the cemetery. She is the mother of a boy that he killed years ago and whose body he hid. The woman begs him to tell her where her son's body is so that she can give it a decent burial. Fegan finds that he cannot refuse her.

The old woman in the cemetery tells Fegan that sooner or later, everybody pays and the dead will set the price. The dead who follow Fegan have set his price: It is the deaths of the instigators of death. From the greedy politicians to the corrupt members of security forces, the street thugs and bystanders and even a priest who allowed it to happen - they all have to pay the price. Then Fegan will be able to sleep through the night without being wakened by the screams of those he tormented and killed.

There is one little problem with Fegan's vendetta. Northern Ireland has finally exhausted its thirst for blood. It has entered a peace process with England and Ireland, and reminding people of the crimes of the past threatens that peace process and could destabilize the country's fledgling government. Many people have reason to want Fegan stopped, to have him gone from the landscape. A double agent named David Campbell, one of those people lost in the nether regions between the forces of law and those of terror, agrees to take on the job of disposing of Fegan.

Meanwhile, as Fegan goes about his own task of tidying up the mess that is Northern Ireland society, he meets a woman named Marie and her little daughter, Ellen. He is drawn to them and reminded of what it is like to care for someone. 

Marie is an outcast of society because she had an affair with a cop named Jack Lennon. He abandoned her when she became pregnant with his child. (Interestingly, this book is styled as the first in the "Jack Lennon" series and yet he never makes an appearance, except in the story that Marie tells.)

This was Stuart Neville's first novel and it is a stem-winder! At a certain point near the end of the book, I could not put it down and I found myself reading far past my normal bedtime, just because I had to know what happened. The story gathers steam from beginning to end, a bit like a runaway train, and the pressure to continue reading is intense. In reading about the book, I learned that it had been nominated for several awards, including best first mystery novel of the year 2009. I am not surprised. I certainly would have voted for it!

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  1. A powerful story, Dorothy. I am off to Amazon. Happy New Year. P. x

    1. It is indeed a powerful story and very well written.

  2. Sounds like a great book, great topic too.

    1. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys suspenseful thrillers.


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