That's me with my two new Neville novels, which I won back in July by writing about bacon. I've been meaning to share my thoughts on them for a while now, but this past month I was just so wrapped up in my procrastination. That happens sometimes. Then again, some might argue I'm procrastinating even now, by continuing to write meaningless drivel when I could have already begun the reviews and instead be writing meaningful drivel. These people are all kinds of wrong. My drivel is never meaningful.
(By the way, for the two of you who saw the title of this post and thought I'd be discussing Chan-Wook Park and South Korean cinema, my apologies. Maybe next time.)
The Ghosts of Belfast
by Stuart Neville
Neville's debut novel, The Ghosts of Belfast, has an intriguing premise: Gerry Fegan, a former killer for the IRA, has served his time, but is haunted endlessly by the ghosts of twelve of his innocent victims. For years, he has sought solace at the bottom of a bottle,1 but now the ghosts have a new proposal for Gerry. If he kills the other people who share responsibility for his victims' deaths, the ghosts will leave him alone.
Unfortunately, there's not much more to the story. It's well written, and I enjoyed getting a taste of all the warring factions in modern-day Belfast, but the plot is wafer-thin. Which would have been fine, except for one thing: Gerry isn't a likeable character. He moves from target to target, killing only to silence his ghosts. He spares others who don't deserve to be spared, simply because the ghosts haven't singled them out for destruction. And sometimes, the targets the ghosts have selected aren't the most plausible choice.
The Ghosts of Belfast is a standard tale of vengeance, yet one with few twists or roadblocks, and a main character with little redeeming value. I mean, he pledged to protect one attractive woman and her daughter. How valiant.
Though Neville's style won me over, the story and characters weren't enough to keep me hooked.
1 Not literally. He just drinks like a fish.2
2 Not literally. Fish don't drink alcohol. Also, they have gills. Fegan doesn't. This isn't Waterworld, people.
by Stuart Neville
Here we've got another tale with revenge at its core, but this time Neville does it right. Where its predecessor boasted little in the way of plot, Collusion introduces a beleaguered detective trying to find his ex-lover and young daughter, whom he believes are in trouble. Detective Jack Lennon is hindered every step of the way, and as he delves deeper he begins to unravel a conspiracy between all those warring factions I mentioned from the first book. Indeed, his family is caught directly in the cross-hairs. And weaving through it all, a cold-blooded3 assassin known only as the Traveller exacts another man's revenge through the streets of Belfast.
Lennon is the compelling, sympathetic character The Ghosts of Belfast lacked. And unlike Fegan's trail of vengeance in the first book, the Traveller's doesn't go nearly as smoothly. Speaking of Fegan, he's back, but since he's no longer taking orders from ghosts and comes in smaller doses, he's much easier to take.
With a compelling protagonist, actual character arcs, and traitors and conspiracies to uncover, Collusion easily surpasses its predecessor. Though I found the Traveller's motivations unrealistic at times, the bad guys' noses a little too easily broken, and the ending not as powerful as I'd hoped, all in all it was a very entertaining read.
Looking for a quality thriller filled with unseemly Irish characters? Leave the Ghosts behind and check this one out.
3 Not literally. He is neither lizard nor vampire. A better descriptor might have been cold-hearted.4
4 Not literally. I have it on good authority the Traveller's heart sits at a balmy 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.