Friday, September 23, 2011

STOLEN SOULS, by Stuart Neville: Irish "Very Noir"

Readers looking for emotionally sweet material, skip this one. Those interested in how true evil erupts and how it's effectively battled via determined police work (of the honest sort), this one's for you. Make sure the door is locked and the motion-detector lights are working, though. Stuart Neville holds back nothing in crafting high suspense and terror. If you can survive the intrigue and risk, there's a highly satisfying result.

This is the third in Neville's Belfast series. Like Leighton Gage's Brazilian police procedurals, its portrait of the local underworld, international crime connections, and sacrifices called for from investigators are the last thing the local tourist bureau would want you to read. But for courage and dogged determination to "serve and protect," STOLEN SOULS is right on track. There's also a steady dose of the paranormal here, as in the two books that preceded this one (The Ghosts of Belfast and Collusion, prize winners both). From what I've read so far among today's Irish mysteries, whether sweet or dark, that seems to come with the territory.

In STOLEN SOULS, it comes with the child Ellen, to whom Detective Inspector Jack Lennon is a late-arriving but legitimate father. Ellen's night terrors erupt when her dreams include the violence that persistently connects to Lennon and to Ellen's mother's family. She doesn't seem to see the future, but experiences instead the horrors of the present for a selected set of victims.
Lennon knelt beside the bed, placed a hand on her small cheek. He had learned not to take the child in his arms when she awoke pursued by night terrors, the shock of it to much for her.

"It's me," he said. "Daddy's here. You're all right."

Ellen blinked at him, her face softening. He'd almost forgotten how old she looked when she emerged from her nightmares, a girl of seven carrying centuries of pain behind her eyes.
Neville never over-explains, but through all three books, it's clear his characters aren't the only ones carrying centuries of pain. It's the Irish condition. Come to think of it, any kind of peace in Ireland is a miracle, considering what's happened over those centuries.

This time there's a serial killer who, for a wonder, is not directly after one of Lennon's own. But the detective inspector commits to dealing with the twisted mind of the criminal and capturing him. It's not always a wise route he's on, as he reflects late in STOLEN SOULS:
Jack Lennon was an idiot when he joined the police. He was an idiot when he refused to accept a commendation for saving the live of a fellow officer under fire. He was an idiot when he left his unborn daughter when she was still in the womb. He was an idiot when he drove a killer called Gerry Fegan across the border to settle a score.

Lennon knew he had been an idiot all his life, but it never stopped him. He drew his pistol and made his way deeper into the house.
A Lithuanian criminal syndicate, human bondage, brutality -- how much can Jack Lennon tackle? Who'll support him when he risks his life again and again?

Already available in the UK, STOLEN SOULS hits the US market on October 4. Worth ordering in advance, really. I'll be one of the readers looking for a chance to meet this author of consistently powerful crime fiction, who paints a soul freighted with some of history's worst nightmares. Check out Neville's website for details on upcoming appearances over the next few months; his first US tour for the book is ending this week, as he heads back to the Emerald Isle for its Irish premiere.

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