I’m a Stuart Neville fan. I was introduced to his Belfast novels series this year, when The Final Silence was up for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best Novel. (Click here for my glowing review of that book.) Neville didn’t win, but the book was a winner despite that. Of course, I soon read his backlist and enjoyed them greatly.
Without a doubt, his new book — Those We Left Behind — is up to his high standard. It’s a world of grays, not black and white. And if the villains are psychologically twisted, the good guys aren’t completely pure-hearted either.
Seven years ago, the Devine brothers, age 12 and 14, murdered their foster father. Ciaran, the younger, confessed, saying that he killed the man because he had been sexually abusing his brother Thomas. Thomas agreed and said he tried to stop Ciaran but it was too late. DCI Serena Flanagan has the strong suspicion that Thomas was the killer and Ciaran was taking the fall for him. She used every psychological trick in the book to gain the boy’s trust, a technique that backfired when Ciaran made a clumsy sexual advance. Her reaction killed the rapport, he stuck to his story, and was off to prison. Thomas, too, as an accessory.
Here’s the current situation:
- Thomas has been out and managed to keep his head down for two years.
- Ciaran’s being released on probation. He’s a fearful young man, cowed by his brother, and compliant with his probation officer, Paula Cunningham.
- Their foster mother is dead and their foster brother, Daniel, is determined to prove that Thomas killed his father, not Ciaran. But he’s making a mess of his life in doing so.
- Flanagan is pulled back in when Cunningham seeks her advice about Ciaran, and when Daniel is stabbed to death, Flanagan is convinced Thomas did it.
Who is guilty? Everyone, of something. Neville’s characterization is spot-on, fully developed, with no cardboard cut-outs to be found. There’s a feeling of inevitability in the plot, that Ciaran’s prison term put all their fates on “pause,” and with his release, the pent-up pressure is released. In just a few days, the brothers are locked once again into a dreadful spiral of violence. The end is both shocking and unsurprising. A side plot about the possible murder of a woman in Serena Flanagan’s cancer support group, is compelling. Neville fans will rave, any fan of the genre will be enthusiastic, and I heartily recommend it!