Stuart Neville's The Ghosts of Belfast is a stunning debut. Part thriller, part political history, part ghost story, this novel represents a fantastic foray into the world of fiction. Neville's muscular prose is active and crisp.
A riot is like a fire. It has a life of its own, and does as it will. But it can be fanned or quelled. Fegan knew that as well as anybody. The police and the kids were the kindling, paper and dry wood. Men like Caffola were the naked flame, ready to set them alight. Others, like Father Coulter, were water to douse the burning. But Father Coulter wasn't here this evening, so Caffola sparked and blazed unabated. Morbidly fascinated, Fegan watched him work.
Fegan, literally haunted by his past, is a terrific character. A man who "doesn't like words" and is possessed of a murderous past, he sets out on a revenge-fueled spree to set things right in Ireland ("right" is a relative term of course, when one trades death for death).
Neville, to his credit, embraces the sordid politics of a changing Ireland. The piece is as fascinating for its conflict as it is for its lessons in history. The story is plausible and extremely fast-paced. If you are looking for a top-notch fiction that really defies genre classification, give The Ghosts of Belfast a shot.