Monday, January 31, 2011

Ghosts of Belfast and Collusion by Stuart Neville

I read Stuart Neville's Collusion last week, and find myself in a somewhat dissenting opinion from many reviews I've read. Although it is its own tale,with its own hero, I think that readers will be doing themselves a disservice if they don't read Neville's previous novel The Ghosts of Belfast, or, as it's known across the pond, The Twelve, first. It's not that you can't read Collusion on its own, it's that you're basically wrecking TGoB if you do. Collusion ties up too many of Ghosts loose ends to read in reverse order. But do what you will, I can but advise.
In Ghosts of Belfast, former IRA hitman Gerry Fegan must settle some scores--with himself, among other people. Not to be too flip about it, but he sees dead people. The people he sees are the ones he's helped make dead. He seeks revenge on their behalf against the very people who used him to achieve their ends. The story is basically the unfolding of this idea. It's effective, well written and in some ways tidy. Collusion comes along to remind us that things are never as tidy as all that. 

This second novel does include characters from the first, including Fegan. Its central character, however, is new to us. Jack Lennon, a Northern Irish cop, bears a relation to Fegan that neither of them know about. His role is to get to the bottom of some mysterious killings that seem to come out of Northern Ireland's recent past. His interest is also more personal--he wants to be sure his ex-wife and daughter are kept safely out of the way.

The reason this novel is called Collusion is quite clear--it's even spelled out at a certain point in the novel. What's a bit hard for an outsider to Northern Ireland's politics and history to fathom is how much of the tale that unfolds is based on endemic collusion in the real world, and how much of it just makes for good storytelling. The relentless pace of the book, starting right from its slam dunk opening, guarantees a satisfying read for thriller readers, and it's obvious that it would do well on the big screen. Neville cites some of the sources for his central premise at the end. But an American reader is left wondering a bit. Was collusion between all parties really so pervasive in the North's recent history, or is Neville using a bit of poetic license to underscore his premise. In some ways, I think that only someone who had lived through these times or whose parents had would really be able to know the answer.

(This post is part of the Ireland Challenge 2011. Only one book counts towards my goal of 6, as I read Ghosts of Belfast awhile ago.)


  1. Your dissent is noted. I read Collusion first and was easily able to imagine myself backward when I then read The Ghosts of Belfast. But it certainly would not hurt to read the in order.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  2. You're right. You can, and it's not a huge problem, but a lot of the plot surprises aren't surprises that way.

    I thought the two stories were more distinct from each other, but in some ways they are really more like two parts of one long novel.

    Anyway, they're both easily available right now, so people can decide for themselves.