Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Release Day: THE FINAL SILENCE, Belfast Very Very Noir, from Stuart Neville

The fifth book in Stuart Neville's Belfast, Northern Ireland, series reached publication today. That's a very good thing. THE FINAL SILENCE continues the harsh, difficult saga of (now former) police inspector Jack Lennon, as he fights for a medical pension, for a chance to raise his own daughter, and for his self-respect.

But all his battles happen on the killing ground of murderers and perverts, and this one opens in the home of a recently dead man, Raymond Drew. His niece Rea Carlyle -- herself the daughter of an up-and-coming politician, Graham Carlyle, who's so close to what he wants that he can't afford to let anyone stand in the way -- sees her own chances improving when her parents offer to give her the newly vacant house where Raymond lived in solitude for so many years. It's easy enough to clear out the few impersonal items her uncle lived with. But a locked door to one more room commands Rea's attention, and when, solo, she manages to pry the door open, the journal of perversion and murder that she discovers turns loose the forces of darkness around her.

A recent roundup of "Nordic noir" by New York Times reviewer Marilyn Stasio pointed out that the crush of dark Scandinavian mysteries and thrillers that recently raced to translation into English (following the path of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) build their power from the force of politics in those wintry nations. It's not just their national entanglements with Germany during the two "World Wars" that pounds through these books, but also mass murders, ethnic prejudice, torn social fabric in the transformation of rural peoples into crowded urban lifestyles. (I recommend it: here.)

Similarly, Neville's Belfast series has taken the pain and horror of Northern Ireland's history and used it to construct malicious gangsters, potent sociopaths, family networks of poisonous loyalties. Through Inspector Jack Lennon and his intermittently psychic daughter Ellen, and a few other "sensitive" if dangerous acquaintances, Neville has poured the horrors of the Irish past into both killers and hauntings. He's made it clear that the ghosts that threaten us are the guilty crimes of our pasts -- and he's done it with adept storytelling.

Now, in THE FINAL SILENCE, Neville lets the force of history slip backstage as he focuses on Jack Lennon and the crushed and disgraced career that Jack's dragging behind him like a deadened limb. Somewhere in the discovered journal and the devastated family that's linked to it, Jack Lennon sees the "one more crime" that demands his skills, whether or not he's officially on the case. But how successful can a man be whose life is such a train wreck? One of the few retired officers who still believes in Jack Lennon is his old colleague Chief Inspector Uprichard -- but even he turns blunt with Jack, despite sharing a shard of personal loss with him. What does it matter if such a sorry wreck as Jack Lennon says he's sorry for Uprichard?
"I don't need your pity," Uprichard said. "I just need you to understand that I won't help you if you won't help yourself. You've been digging yourself into this hole for how long now? When are you going to reach the bottom? You've all but lost your career. Your daughter's gone. You've got a cop after you for murder. How much worse does it have to get for you, Jack, before you stop digging?"
And yet with all that -- and all the blood and threat around Jack -- there is, as it has been before in Neville's work, a question of the dogged human capacity for loyalty and love that might, just might, put an end to a series of deaths.

But really -- what will it take for Jack Lennon to give up self-medicating and forge a new partnership with a real investigator? And what else does he have to lose?

Neville's pace and relentless pressure on his characters create a book that can't be put down (at least, if you're willing to read your way into such darkness to start with). A police manhunt by broken people who can't help fighting for justice ... yes, that's well worth reading, in this latest Belfast neo-noir. And no, you won't need to read the other four first. But each of them is different, and powerful, and I recommend them all. From Soho Crime, once again.

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