Tag Archives: stuart neville

Stuart Neville’s done it again

behindI’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!

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Mo Hayder’s Wolf the final nominee for MWA Best Novel Edgar

wolfLunchbox regulars know that there are a few favorite authors that I buy in hardback, recommend wholeheartedly, and await with anticipation their next novel.  Back in the day it was Dick Francis, Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky and John Grisham.  Currently, it’s Ian Rankin, Laura Lippmann, Michael Connelly, Louise Penny, William Kent Krueger and Mo Hayder.   It was a wonderful day when I discovered Mo Hayder’s Gone – not to mention her entire back catalog – and I marveled at her ability to create suspense and surprise.  As an aspiring writer myself, reading Gone was like a master lesson in craft.  It deserved and won the Edgar for Best Novel in 2012.

No surprise to me –  Mo Hayder has penned another masterclass of a thrilling detective story with Wolf.  If anything the plot is even more knotty than Gone, and there’s no cheating.  Reading Wolf the third time through to review it for the MWA Edgar for Best Novel, I was able to note all the clues that I should have been picking up on were right there in front of me.

There are two plot threads. In the first, a wealthy family – the Anchor-Ferrars – are settling into their comfortable vacation home when they’re visited by two policemen, DI Honey and DS Molina.  Fifteen years previously, a teenage couple had been brutally murdered just a short distance away.  The killer disemboweled them both and strung their intestines, shaped into a heart, in the trees above them.  Now it appears that a second, similar murder has taken place, and the family is stricken to learn that their safety is at risk.  And it certainly is, for we soon realize that the policemen are not policemen at all, but have been hired to terrorize the family in order to suppress the publication of Oliver Anchor-Ferrars’ memoirs.  Although he’s now in his mid-60s and recovering from open-heart surgery, Oliver Anchor-Ferrars is a much harder and smarter man than he appears.  Over the four days of their captivity, Oliver deduces the truth and leaves a hidden message for the police detective he anticipates will be responsible for solving the crime.

The second thread is DI Jack Caffery’s lifelong search for the truth about the abduction and presumed sexual assault and murder of his 9-year-old brother, Ewan.  The Caffery family lived just steps away from a known pedophile, and Jack has spent decades trying to discover what happened to his brother and to find his body.  He’s similar, in that respect, to Hayder’s continuing character known as the walking man.  The walking man is a homeless itinerant, but highly intelligent and educated man, whose daughter was abducted.  He searches as he walks, seeking her body, and sometimes shares information with Jack.  And sometimes he doesn’t.

The threads come together through coincidence, or as the walking man would have it, fate.   For the only hope for rescue of the Anchor-Ferrars family rests in the speedy exit of their Border terrier, Bear.  A note reading “Help Us,” and including their address, was attached to Bear’s collar by Mrs. Anchor-Ferrars, who then threw the dog down the fireplace chimney.  Injured and with most of the note missing, Bear is discovered by a little blonde girl – Amy – in the nearby park who turns to none other than the walking man for help.  And the walking man turns to Jack, dangling the potential of information about Ewan from a new source as his incentive to track down Bear’s owners.

And thus does Jack Caffery begin his search, even as Honey and Molina are inflicting mental torture and physical abuse on the family.  It’s a long and complicated process, and Jack prevails in bringing all the perpetrators to justice, although the day is not entirely saved.  (I’ll say no more for fear of spoilers.)

Mo Hayder has written a perfect Rubik’s cube of a puzzle, where all the pieces slot perfectly into place but there’s a lot of looking at things in new ways to make them do so.  At the same time, the characters are simply the most well-drawn and compelling characters – good guys, bad guys, and minor walk-ons alike – that I have seen in … well, forever, really.  The book itself is painful at many points and the resolution of the mystery of Jack’s brother Ewan is surprising, ironic, and completely in keeping with the synchronicity of life’s events.

So, there’s the review – but what about the ranking?  The #1 ranked novel, Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes, is an excellent book and I look forward to more from Bill Hodges.  But Mo Hayder’s Wolf is a deeper experience all together – it takes the top spot.   I forecast Wolf as the big winner at the Edgar Awards ceremony this week.

mwa_logoLiterary Lunchbox Rankings: Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award, Best Novel

  1. Wolf by Mo Hayder
  2. Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
  3. Cop Town by Karin Slaughter
  4. The Final Silence by Stuart Neville
  5. Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin
  6. This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash

The Mystery Writers of America Edgars Banquet is Wednesday, April 29.  That night, the winners of the Best Novel and Best First Novel awards will be announced, among others.  My former colleague Jim Klise is up for an Edgar for his YA novel, The Art of Secrets.  (Good luck, Jim!)  We’ll see if he prevails, and if my calls of Mo Hayder’s Wolf and Tim Bouman’s Dry Bones in the Valley are on the money.

Edgar race heats up with Final Silence

silenceI’ve got to tell you, 2015 is the toughest race yet for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best Novel.  So far I’ve reviewed two books by well-known and well-loved authors of the police procedural, the UK’s Ian Rankin and USA’s Karin Slaughter.  And the competition heats up further with the third entry, Stuart Neville‘s The Final Silence.  Neville was unknown to me prior to this nomination, but I’ve come to learn that he is a popular Scottish crime fiction writer.  His primary protagonist is Detective Inspector Jack Lennon of Belfast.

In this outing, DI Lennon is just barely a DI.  A widower, single parent to a traumatized daughter following the very-likely-Jack’s-fault murder of her mother, Jack’s addicted to painkillers and making a mess of his personal and his professional life.  When Rea Carlisle, politician Graham Carlisle’s daughter, inherit’s her uncle’s home, she also inherits his secrets:  Uncle Raymond was very likely a serial killer.  Her abusive dad wants to burn the evidence, her cowed mother goes along with that plan, but Rea turns to an ex-boyfriend for help:  Jack Lennon.

Of course, by the time Jack meets Rea at the uncle’s home, someone’s broken in and lifted the book… and he wonders if it ever existed.  She gives him an old photo of Uncle Raymond with Graham Carlisle and some others, which makes it clear that not only did Carlisle know his brother-in-law a great deal better than he let on, they both had been involved in some kind of paramilitary organization back in the day.  “Find out if my father was even suspected of anything . . . bad,” she asks.  Jack reluctantly agrees and heads out, slamming the stubborn front door three times to get the lock to catch.

By morning, Rea is dead, bludgeoned to death by the very crowbar she used to pry open the locked door her uncle kept his secrets hidden behind.  And Jack Lennon’s the primary suspect.  Detective Chief Inspector Serena Flanagan is investigating.  DCI Flanagan is smart and tough, with a strong sense of character judgment, a supportive spouse and two small children.  She’s also challenged with a breast cancer diagnosis that she’s hiding from her husband.

While eluding arrest, Lennon manages to use the one friend he has left on the force and a criminal who owes him a favor or two to unearth the truth about Graham Carlisle, his brother-in-law Raymond Drew, and the strange friendship Raymond had with his colleague at arms, a serial killer known as the Sparkle.  Prodded by DCI Flanagan, he also manages to pull himself up out of the depths and give up the comfort of pills-and-booze and rescue his daughter from the clutches of his dead wife’s controlling relatives.

So.  Augh.  Tough one.  Here’s what’s compelling about The Final Silence: Great characters, heroes, villains, and victims alike.  Lennon’s a flawed but good guy.  Flanagan’s out-and-out awesome.  Uncle Raymond’s pathetic.  The Sparkle is compellingly twisted. And Rea Carlisle’s a victim, but she’s around till chapter 16, which gives us plenty of time to admire her and to gasp in shock when we read Neville’s first line in that chapter:  It took hours for Rea Carlisle to die.   Her parents leap off the page, real people.   And the plot makes the book a page-turner.

But how does it compare to Ian Rankin’s Saints of the Shadow Bible and Karin Slaughter’s Cop Town? Frankly, we’ve got three 5-star books here.   I could make a compelling argument for any one of these books to receive the Edgar.  But when all is said and done, I’m going to continue to give it to Cop Town for originality, move The Final Silence into the #2 position for characterization, and leave Saints of the Shadow Bible third in the ranking.  (Although I reserve the right to change my mind upon further reflection, that’s how conflicted I am.)

mwa_logoLiterary Lunchbox Rankings: Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award, Best Novel

  1. Cop Town by Karin Slaughter
  2. The Final Silence by Stuart Neville
  3. Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin

Panels, panels, panels

Panels are the mainstay of fan conferences.  They’re typically five authors,  one moderator, and a topic.  Bouchercon has almost 100 panels, but the most you could go to is about 20 since there are five going on at any one time.

I’m not getting to 20, that’s for sure – my goal is three good ones a day.  What makes a panel good?  If it sounds like it would apply to my own writing, it goes to the top of my list.  If I particularly want to hear one of the authors on the panel, it goes in the middle.  Never heard of the authors and don’t get the topic?  Never mind.

So Comedy in Crime Fiction with Jerry Healy, Gary Alexander, Allan Ansorge, Jack Frederickson, Alan Orloff and (the lone female) Robin Spano was a winner for me – my Paula books are ostensibly funny and it would help to get some tips and ideas.  Needless to say these were funny people.  Key findings:

  1. How do you know something is funny?  You laugh.  It’s nice if other people laugh, too.
  2. Got something that’s hilarious but somewhat distasteful?  Don’t give it to your protagonist, give it to another character.  Is it really terrible?  Your main character may disapprove.  This falls into the eating your cake and having it, too, category.
  3. Mean humor?  Sparingly.  Self-deprecating humor?  Good but don’t overdo this either.

The Mermaids are Singing (a Taste of Magna Cum Murder, the Muncie conference that happens annually around Halloween) was on the list because it featured Val McDermid, Caroline and Charles Todd, and Parnell Hall.  Also on the panel was John Gilstrap, Stuart Neville, and moderator Kathryn Kennison.  Did I learn anything?  Yes, that Magna Cum Murder would be a ton of fun to attend and that Parnell Hall is a big ham.  See the proof here.

A Clear Cut Case of Murder was back to the “I will learn something good here” mode.  It featured moderator Leslie Budewitz, Jan Burke, Jonathan Hayes, Stefanie Pintoff, Doug Starr, and former O.J. prosecutor Marcia Clark.  Highlights:

  1. The history of forensic science is long and Europe was way ahead of us.  The late 1800’s, early 1900’s was when it all began.
  2. Jan Burke is involved with The Crime Lab Project, raising awareness of the lack of funding for forensic science – huge backlogs of rape kits, DNA testing, etc., caused entirely by a lack of resources.   Now I want to work this my work.  Perhaps a short story.
  3. Marcia Clark shared that you have to push detectives into requesting forensic analysis.  OJ’s socks had his blood on them.  And Ron and Nicole’s.  And she had to nag a storm to get the analysis done.  Side note – when forensics isn’t enough.  If you don’t believe the chain of custody and you think the whole thing is faked, then you don’t care what the tests show.
Needless to say, more to come.