Written by Stuart Neville — DI Jack Lennon is in a world of trouble. He is half crippled by slow-healing bullet wounds, incurred while engaged on a case which ended with his suspension from the police force. Stolen Souls (2012) recounts this story, and our review is here. Lennon, struggling to escape the dangerous embrace of strong painkillers, is a decent but godless man adrift in the stormy waters of sectarian Belfast. He’s desperate to keep his young daughter from what he sees as the snares of his late wife’s passionately Roman Catholic family. As if that wasn’t enough, he is being denied a medical pension. In the ruthless poker game which his ongoing battle with vindictive superiors has become, he holds only one good card: a potentially explosive dossier on police corruption within the force.
Just when Lennon thinks his life cannot slide further down the pan, he answers a call from an old girlfriend. In a house she has just inherited from her late uncle, she has found a macabre scrapbook detailing a string of savage killings. By the time Lennon gets over to Rea Carlisle’s house, the book has gone. Lennon wants to be sympathetic, but despite Rea giving him a faded Polaroid photo of some Loyalist paramilitaries which she found in the book, he is disinclined to believe her. To his horror, he is woken up the next day with a call telling him that Rea has been found bludgeoned to death on her staircase.
Lennon realises that his prints will be found on what is presumed to be the murder weapon – a crowbar – because he handled it briefly when visiting Rea. He turns himself in to the Ladas Drive station of The Police Service of Northern Ireland, expecting that the matter will be cleared up promptly. He is very much mistaken. The officer investigating this case, DCI Serena Flanagan, is no fan of Lennon’s and her own equilibrium has been shattered by devastating personal news. There is a further complication, as Rea’s father – an ambitious politician – and mother both deny knowledge of the scrapbook, despite having been told about it by their daughter.
Lennon is kicked out of the flat he shares with his current girlfriend, and finds himself virtually friendless – and a prime suspect in a murder case – in a city where few people owe him favours. One man who does, is Roscoe Patterson, who runs a high class prostitution ring. Patterson also has contacts among former Loyalist gunmen who may be able to shed light on the Polaroid which is Lennon’s only key to solving the case. Physically almost broken, sleepless and homeless, Lennon only has his own copper’s instinct to fall back on in order to retain his job, his sanity, and what is left of his family.
This is crime fiction right out of the top drawer. It goes beyond the police procedural genre, and mines down into the world of obsessive killing, political ambition and sectarian bigotry. Jack Lennon is a shambles of a copper, an irresponsible parent, and a dangerous friend. At his deep, dark blue centre, however, he is brave and incorruptible. The dialogue throughout the book snaps and jitters with electricity, and as the climax unfolds nothing will be able to make you put the book down. The elements of pity, humanity and compassion are never far under the swirling surface action of this novel, and it will certainly be put on my ‘best of 2014’ shelf. It’s released on 17 July.
Last year, Stuart Neville spoke to us about his historical thriller, Ratlines, in an interview here.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars