First-rate thriller set in Northern Ireland

2009-11-25 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

The Twelve

Stuart Neville

Harvill Secker

IN post-conflict Northern Ireland, former paramilitary killer Gerry ­Fegan is haunted by his victims, 12 souls who shadow him during the day and howl through his drunken nights.

Just as his mind is about to give way, the victims reveal their desire: ­revenge on those who engineered their deaths, whether greedy ­politicians, corrupt security forces, street thugs or those who complacently stood by and allowed it all to happen.

And so, driven, desperate to ­satisfy and silence the “Twelve”, Fegan embarks on his vendetta — even though his actions could derail Northern Ireland’s peace process and destabilise the newly established government. Which means that once they realise what’s happening, old comrades and enemies alike want him gone.

The job of eliminating him goes to David Campbell, a double agent, himself existing in the no-man’s-land between the forces of law and terror.

Grimly conceived, bleak and tough-minded, economically written and elegantly constructed, this is one of the finest thriller ­debuts of recent years. It’s also one of the ­finest Irish novels in any genre that I’ve come across, showing the effect on a sensi­tive individual of the ­brutalities and wastefulnesses of a war he ­entered on principle and ended in ­dis­illusion and despair.

And such is Neville’s skill that he does not drown the reader in hopelessness, but quite believably and unsentimentally permits a gleam of hope to enter at the end. First rate.

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