Review: Here and Gone by Haylen Beck

Here and Gone.jpgWriting under the pseudonym Haylen Beck, Stuart Neville has produced a top-notch thriller, deliberately paced and wound tight. Here and Gone is a powerhouse of a story that will keep you awake until the last page.

Audra Kinney is faced with every parent’s worst nightmare when she and her children become the victims of corrupt cops. After years of abuse, courtesy of her husband, Audra has finally worked up the courage to escape his clutches with her two children. She doesn’t have much of a plan, just knows she needs to get away, and when a friend halfheartedly invites her out to San Diego, Audra packs up her few possessions and makes the journey from the East Coast. But along the way she is arrested by a small-time sheriff, separated from her kids, and quickly presented to the media as a kidnapper / murderer. When Danny Lee hears about her situation, he immediately leaves San Francisco and becomes Audra’s only ally. Years ago, Danny’s wife had a similar experience; their children were never found, and his wife never recovered. The resemblance between both situations is too much to be pure coincidence. Danny is certain the same people responsible for the tragedy in his life are afflicting the same damage on Audra’s.

Here and Gone is a thriller in the true sense of the word. It’s breathtaking, relentless and action-packed, but it also lacks some of the nuance of Stuart Neville’s work. Writing as Haylen Beck, it’s clear the author has attempted to emulate the style of the American grand-master of crime himself, Elmore Leonard; and though it works, for the most part, I can’t help but wonder a Stuart Neville novel would’ve had more to say about the horrors of human trafficking or the victimisation of women by the media. Here and Gone lacks some of the moral complexity of say, So Say the Fallen, which doesn’t make it an ineffective thriller, just one that resonates less than its counterparts. In the moment, as you’re turning the pages, you will absolutely be invested and enthralled; this is as white-knuckle as a thriller can get. It’s got punch, that’s for sure; it just doesn’t bruise.

As far as unputdownable thrillers of 2017 rank, Here and Gone is right up there. If you need to make spare hours fly, this is the book for you.

ISBN: 9781911215592
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Harvill Secker
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 13-Jul-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Twelve by Stuart Neville

9780099535348.jpgThose We Left Behind served as my introduction to Stuart Neville’s work, which I devoured in a single reading session; so too this year’s sequel, So Say the Fallen, which was equally fantastic, and solidified his status as a must-read author. Since then I’ve been biding my time, waiting for the opportunity to sample Neville’s first book, The Twelve: and while it’s not as nuanced, or as polished as his later books, it’s a brilliant thriller that you can safely file under unputdownable.

Gerry Fegan sees dead people. Years after his release from prison, with an uneasy peace existing between the IRA and England, the former hitman is haunted by the ghosts of the twelve people he killed. No amount of alcohol has silenced these accusing ghouls; they are with him every single day, slowly driving him insane. A chance encounter with an old ally leads to Fegan ending the life of one of the IRA’s old guard — and the extinguishment of one of his ghosts. Which is when Fegan realises: his salvation lies in his extermination of his former friends. Trouble is, his silencing of his ghosts threatens to blow the IRA’s truce to smithereens. This fantastic premise is complimented by Neville’s sharp prose, and makes for a relentless, white-knuckle read. The body count is high, and the action comes thick and fast.

The Twelve is a cracking thriller; fast-paced, tremendous executed, with a plot guaranteed to keep you guessing. If you’re yet to sample Stuart Neville’s work, his debut is as fine a place as any to start.

ISBN: 9780099535348
Format: Paperback (198mm x 129mm x 30mm)
Pages: 480
Imprint: Vintage
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 24-Jun-2010
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: So Say the Fallen by Stuart Neville

So Say the FallenLast year I called Stuart Neville’s Those We Left Behind “a true hallmark of the genre,” and have spent the months since its release desperate to read his next. You know what it’s like when the shadow of an absolutely brilliant crime novel casts over subsequent books in your reading stack: oh, there’s stuff there you’ll enjoy, but nothing quite matches up to the quality of that effervescent goliath.  So when an ARC of the second Serena Flanagan novel dropped in my lap, it was very much a case of drop everything and read! Expectations were high — hyperbolic, in fact — and I felt a slight twinge that I’d placed too much of a burden on Neville’s shoulders. I hadn’t, though. Like its predecessor, So Say the Fallen is a brilliant crime novel, and further underlines Stuart Neville’s credentials as one of the best contemporary crime writers.

When So Say the Fallen opens, DCI Serena Flanagan is still dealing with the fallout from her last major case, detailed in Those We Left Behind (which I won’t delve into here – this is a safe place, readers, free from spoilers). Suffice to say, her home life is suffering as a result, and the breakdown of her marriage seems imminent. The new case thrust into her hands doesn’t appear to have the same significance: a severely disabled local businessman has committed suicide, and Flanagan is called to the scene to sign off on the cause of death. The scene is clean, and all evidence points to suicide – but something about the businessman’s widow troubles Flanagan. So too the edginess of the reverend, with whom the widow is suspiciously close to. Despite the wishes of her superiors, Flanagan digs deeper, unravelling the tragedies that have plagued the widow’s life — and eventually the cold, dark truth.

Faith plays an integral role in So Say the Fallen —both the reverend’s, and Flanagan’s — and it’s a theme that is explored with incredible deftness. I’m always wary of being preached to when religion pops up in books, but nothing like that is evident here; it’s beautifully unobtrusive, and adds a new layer to Neville’s protagonist. At multiple points during this story, Flanagan finds herself questioning her path, and trying to fill a void in her life: faith in a higher power would go some way to restoring her. It’s not as cut-and-dried as that, of course – but I truly admire Neville’s willingness to dive into the subject.

In terms of narrative structure, So Say the Fallen isn’t so much a whodunit — we know the truth, or at least shades of it, very early on in the piece —but an extrapolation of motive. Indeed, motive is the driving force behind the novel, as Neville seeks to answer what inspires Flanagan to put her life on the line – and the sanctity of her family – every single day; why does the reverend continue to preach, given the dissipation of his own faith; why would a disabled businessman, who had apparently accepted his fate, suddenly decide to end his own life? This is less a novel of who, but rather, why. And it offers a nice change of pace from the archetypal mysteries clogging bookstore shelves.

So Say the Fallen is a damn fine novel, blending high personal stakes and character depth alongside traditional genre elements. Without question it will rank as one of the best crime novels I read this year. Anything that tops it will have to absolutely blow my socks off. It’s really that good.

[Don’t wanna take my word for it? Here’s another opinion!]

ISBN: 9781910701522
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Harvill Secker
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 7-Jul-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Those We Left Behind by Stuart Neville

Those We Left Behind.jpgWhile most crime writers sate themselves with the unfolding of a crime, its investigation and eventual resolution, in Those We Left Behind, Stuart Neville looks beyond those perfunctory elements of the genre. The crime has happened; arrests made; sentences served. This is about what happens afterwards; about attempted reintegration into society; about the darkness that gestates inside the truly evil; about the everlasting ripples of a devastating crime. It is a truly sublime crime novel – deeply affecting and chilling – and one of the finest psychological thrillers of the year.

Years ago, when Serena Flanagan was a Detective Sergeant, she took the confession of a twelve-year-old boy named Ciaran, who claimed responsibility of the murder of his foster-father. His older brother, Thomas, was convicted of being an accessory, but Flanagan was always believed Ciaran took the fall for her brother so Thomas would receive a shorter sentence. Although her exchanges with Ciaran were brief, Flanagan is adamant they were meaningful; there was something between them, an undefined connection – and the young boy felt it too.

But that was long ago, and Flanagan, now a DCI, rarely thinks of the Devine brothers. Such is the way of a police detective, there is always another case, another crisis; something. But when probation officer Paula Cunningham – tasked with helping Ciaran re-enter society two years after his brother’s release – gets in touch with Flanagan to discuss the case, her interest in the case is reignited, and she finds herself drawn back into the anomalous relationship between Ciaran and Thomas Devine; determined to know the truth.

Focusing a novel on underage, convicted killers is a brave choice, and won’t be to every reader’s tastes. It makes for some uncomfortable and disturbing moments, but Neville’s exploration never feels gratuitous. The storytelling is nuanced and affecting rather than exploitative. Indeed, so many of his characters are flawed, damaged individuals; Flanagan and Cunningham might be the novel’s ‘heroes’, if one was to view the Those We Left Behind from a purely superficial level – but they carry plenty of baggage.

A deep, multi-layered crime novel, Those We Left Behind is a true hallmark of the genre. Stuart Neville is a cut above the competition.

ISBN: 9781846556975
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Harvill Secker
Publisher: Vintage
Publish Date: 26-Jun-2015
Country of Publication: United Kingdom