The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville

ghosts of belfast

The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville
Originally published as The Twelve in 2009
This edition: Soho Press, 2012
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

The Ghosts of Belfast is the story of Gerry Fegan, a former IRA assassin, who is haunted by the ghosts of the twelve people he killed.  He’s not coping well with life at the time of the novel:  he’s been out of prison for seven years, the peace process is progressing, and he’s unsure of his place.  He’s drunk, he’s alone, and his only occupation, besides the community development job he never goes to, is restoring guitars.  The story begins with Gerry embarking on a quest to avenge the murders of the twelve he killed in order to have those ghosts leave him alone.  The story jumps from politicians to former IRA members to undercover agents, and no one is really portrayed in a flattering light.  The politicians who used to be violent are now motivated primarily by greed, and the former IRA members are at loose ends.

The pace of the story is brisk, the outlook of the story is bleak–except for the slight hope Gerry has of protecting a woman named Marie and her young daughter– and it’s a particularly violent and brutal story.  That being said, I thought the book was well-written:  well-paced, interesting main character and interesting undercover agent, but the rest of the characters were not as developed.  It is an incredibly violent story, and I think that’s intentionally so.  I don’t typically read books quite this brutal, but I understand why Neville was so unsparing in the violent descriptions of murders in this book.

Since The Ghosts of Belfast is the first book about Northern Ireland I’ve read, I can’t really put it in the context of other books about Northern Ireland, though I gather Gerald Seymour is someone I should read as well.   I look forward to reading the other books in the Belfast Trilogy:  Collusion and Stolen Souls.

Other reviews can be found at Mrs. Peabody InvestigatesShots Crime and Thriller Ezine, Sarah Weinman for the Los Angeles Times.

5 thoughts on “The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville

  1. I really struggled with this book. I thought he did a great job of depicting the political/social climate of the period but it was too unrelentingly violent for me – as well as just being hard to read I found that there was no suspense as there was never any doubt how badly things would end – when the only surprise is wondering exactly how high the body count will be I lose interest.

    However I know I’m in the minority, most reviews I’ve seen are much more in your camp.

    • I wavered about this one re: the violence. As I was reading it, I thought it got too violent, especially toward the end, but as I stepped away from the novel for a bit, I thought it was appropriate. It’s the opposite of the way I feel about the violence/torture in The Keeper of Lost Causes/Mercy: I only was really bothered by the torturing of the kidnapped politician after I finished it. I hope my opinion of the book isn’t high just because it’s written so well compared to so many other books I try to read.

  2. I thought it was a strong thriller which was much more thought provoking than the average thriller. The long term consequences of a life of violence are not often addressed in thriller fiction.

    • The issue of long-term consequences is interesting in this book, especially because Gerry survives at the end. It also makes me wonder about how much good a Truth and Reconciliation Commission can do after the Troubles or after apartheid in South Africa.

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