Sunday, November 01, 2009

Book: The Ghosts of Belfast, by Stuart Neville (2009)

During the mystery vs. thriller panel at Seattle Bookfest, author Robert Ferrigno said he preferred thrillers because they allowed more room to explore character. (For the record, I still think there should have been someone arguing the mystery side of this panel in the interests of fairness.) (Also for the record, I bring up Bookfest again because being cited in The Stranger’s coverage is the closest I’ve come to being enmeshed in a literary feud, and I’m enjoying that.) ( ... ) (What the hell was I talking about? Oh, right.) You’d be hard-pressed to find better proof of Ferrigno’s argument that the debut novel by Stuart Neville, published in the U.K. and elsewhere as The Twelve.

For years Gerry Fegan was one of the most feared killers at the IRA’s disposal. Now the men who ordered him to commit murder are politicians and power brokers while he downs whiskey to still the voices in his head. Only they’re not just voices. Fegan’s victims appear to him in physical form, dogging his waking hours and denying him sleep. But at long last, these damned souls are telling Fegan how to end his torment. All he must do is eliminate those who are responsible for their deaths.

Neville lays out the complexities of Northern Ireland politics without ever letting the pace flag. And he fills the pages with a rich array of characters, including undercover agents and dealmakers. None are more fascinating than Fegan. He becomes even more compelling with the early revelation that he saw “shades” as a child, a risky move that lends an element of the supernatural to an already potent thriller.

Movie: The Damned United (2009)

Here’s how much of a Peter Morgan/Michael Sheen fanboy I am. The fourth collaboration between this writer and actor, based on a novel by David Peace, got me to give a damn about soccer. (Fine, overseas readers, football. Happy now?) This after I’ve proven immune to Seattle Sounders mania, which has swept through this town like swine flu.

There’s not a lot of action on the pitch in the movie, the story of charismatic coach Brian Clough’s disastrous six-week reign at the helm of Leeds United in 1974. But there’s drama to spare. Two thoughts:

Never have I seen an actor who more resembles the real-life figure he’s playing than Colm Meaney and Clough’s predecessor, Don Revie.

I’ll say this for ... football. Failure has consequences. Lose badly enough and you’re demoted an entire division. Last year a certain Pacific Northwest team that will remain nameless became charter members of baseball’s 100/100 club, the first franchise to lose 100 regular season games with a payroll in excess of 100 million dollars. Come 2009, they still got to play the Yankees. A little fear might not be such a bad thing.