Sunday, October 31, 2010

Book: Collusion, by Stuart Neville (2010)

The bloody events of Stuart Neville’s sterling debut novel The Ghosts of Belfast echo in this follow-up. Gerry Fegan, the haunted IRA assassin, has fled to America and found only a temporary measure of peace. Inspector Jack (never John) Lennon of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is searching for his ex-lover and daughter, who have gone into hiding. To find them he’ll have to sort through the collusion of the title, the incestuous relationship between law enforcement, politicians, and Catholic and Protestant paramilitary groups. Not to mention deal with a lethal hit man known only as The Traveler. As well as Fegan, heading home with vengeance on his mind.

Collusion doesn’t have as lean a storyline as Ghosts, which makes Neville’s accomplishment with this sequel all the more impressive. He’s written a dense yet nimble thriller that explains the intricacies of Ulster politics without slowing the tempo, and taps into the tension still underlying life in Belfast, where residents are “all smug and smiling now they’d gathered the wit to quit killing each other and start making money instead.” The Traveler is a creation both ferocious and fallible, each quality intensifying the other.

Again running through this meticulously plotted suspense is a supernatural element. Mixing early Stephen King with real-world thrills shouldn’t work but it does, and beautifully. Neville has vaulted to the front rank of crime writers with these two books. Plus I owe him a huge debt for showing me the correct spelling of “Whisht!,” the exclamation uttered by my Northern Ireland-born father whenever Notre Dame was about to score. So he hasn’t been saying it much lately.

Posting a review of a book both scary and scarily good should be enough for this All Hallows Eve but in case it’s not, here’s the end of Paul Lynde’s Halloween special. You may want to dial 91 first.