Thursday, July 02, 2009

THE TWELVE by Stuart Neville

Harvill-Secker, 2009, 978-1846552793, £12.99

In the last couple of years, it feels like all the best new crime fiction has been coming out of Ireland. A willingness to confront political and societal issues combined with a blistering array of voices means that Irish crime and thriller fiction is currently among the most exctiting work being created.

New and beloved voices here at Crime Scene have included Ken Bruen, Declan Hughes, Declan Burke, Brian McGilloway, Bateman, John Connolly and now we can add Stuart Neville to that list.

The Twelve of the title refers to twelve ghosts who have appeared to former paramilitary killer Gerry Fegan. These ghosts are those who were killed during his life throughout the troubles, and now they are demanding vengeance. Its not Gerry they want dead, however. They need him as their instrument. They want Gerry to seek out those who were responsible for their deaths. They will not kill the gun, but the people who pulled the trigger.

Searching for peace, Gerry cuts a bloody path through the hypocrisy of a new peace, causing not only personal but political chaos as he seeks to set these troubled souls to rest.

Its a brilliant premise, made even more chilling by Neville's refusal to utterly settle down on a concrete explanation for the ghosts. Like fellow Irish writer John Connolly, Neville shrouds the supernatural elements of the title with a terrifying ambiguity. Read this how you like; either Gerry is truly haunted, or he is shattered by his own experiences and the twelve are little more than a manifestation of his own self loathing.

As the book kicks into gear, Neville explodes the hypocrisy and terror of modern politics, giving us killers who have reinvented themselves as politicians and officials who are every bit as guilty as those they would condemn. His vision of Ireland has been shattered by its past, unable to lay any of its ghosts to rest making the Twelve as much a damning political novel as it is a straight forward thriller.

Neville is the kind of fierce new voice that the thriller genre cries out for. His prose is sharp and deadly, his characters never less than complex. And for all The Twelve could easily have been a simple drama of revenge, a kind of Death Wish with an Irish accent, it feels somehow deeper and any answers you think have been offered are tempered with further questions. This is a thinking man's thriller, as philosophical as it is visceral, and a novel I urge you to out and read. Right now.

Russel D McLean for crimescenescotland, 08/08/09