SSTF

Neville-Stuart-Colour-c-Philip-ONeill-Photography2Stuart Neville (left) returns with another hard-bitten and edgy tale of life and crimes in Northern Ireland. Set in a fictional village on the edge of Belfast, we are reunited with DCI Serena Flanagan, who first appeared in Those We Left Behind. Like much of life in Ulster, fictional and real, religion and the stresses and strains it places on secular life is never far from the surface. The sacred influence in this case is provided by the Reverend Peter McKay. The clergyman is a widower, but we find that he has been taking his parochial duties above and beyond what is normally expected. The recipient of his pastoral care is Roberta, the attractive wife of Henry Garrick.

The unfortunate Garrick has been of little solace to his wife in recent times, as he was lucky to escape with his life after a catastrophic road accident which resuted in him losing both legs, and rendering him totally dependent on his wife and visiting carers. When he is found dead one morning, with empty sachets of morphine next to his bed, it is clear that the poor man has had enough of his living death, and decided to make it final. Flanagan is sent to the scene, and as is the way with these things, her bosses expect her to sign off the death as a suicide.

But this is crime fiction, and regular readers will know that suicides in these stories are seldom what they seem to be. They will also know that police Inspectors are rarely happy, healthy people, untroubled by their job and with idyllic family lives. Flanagan doesn’t buck the trend. She is recovering from cancer, and the intensity she brings to the job is having a destructive effect on her relationship with her schoolteacher husband and their two children.

Flanagan has a nagging suspicion about the death of Mr Garrick, and she is troubled, not by the arrangement of family photographs around the bed, but by the one that is missing – that of the Garrick’s young daughter – and only child – who was drowned in a tragic accident in Spain.

This is a cleverly written book on many levels. We know early in the piece that Henry Garrick’s death is not what it seems to be. We can also make a shrewd guess as to who is responsible. Neville uses the narrow space occupied by the few unknowns left to us to expand the characters, describe their unsettled personal lives, and paint a mesmerising picture of the ordinary – but strangely intense – lives of church-goers in the parish of Morganstown. The final action set piece, as Flanagan homes in on the killer, is as gripping as anything Neville has written. The title? It is taken from lines written by the American writer Dennis Lehane.

“I can’t just live for the other world. I need to live in this one now.
So say the fallen. So they’ve said since time began.”

You can buy So Say The Fallen from good booksellers, and from Amazon.

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