Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: Those We Left Behind, by Stuart Neville

DCI Serena Flanagan stars in her own series.

Those We Left Behind

Soho Crime, 2015, 320 pages

Blood has always been thicker than water for two Northern Irish brothers caught in the Belfast foster system, but a debt of past violence will be paid not just by them but also by those they left behind.

Ciaran Devine, who made Belfast headlines seven years ago as the "schoolboy killer", is about to walk free. At the age of 12, he confessed to the brutal murder of his foster father; his testimony mitigated the sentence of his older brother, Thomas, who was also found at the crime scene, covered in blood. But DCI Serena Flanagan, the only officer who could convince a young, frightened Ciaran to speak, has silently harbored doubts about his confession all this time.

Ciaran's release means several things: a long-anticipated reunion with Thomas, who still wields a dangerous influence over his younger brother; the call to action of a man bent on revenge for his father's death; and major trouble for Ciaran's assigned probation officer. Meanwhile, Serena Flanagan has just returned to the force from her battle with breast cancer, only to endure the pitying looks of her coworkers and a mountain of open case files. She will soon discover that even closed cases can unleash terror on the streets of Belfast.

I've become a fan of Stuart Neville, beginning with the first book in his "Belfast Noir" series, The Ghosts of Belfast.

In the fourth book in this series, The Final Silence, Neville more or less "retired" his main character, Jack Lennon, and introduced a new one, Detective Chief Inspector Serena Flanagan. In Those We Left Behind, DCI Flanagan becomes the central character.

I wasn't that impressed by Flanagan's first appearance, where she seemed to fill the stock role of "lady cop who has to be a bitch to get by in a police department." However, she is much more fleshed out in this book. She is not actually a bitch — in fact, she has a maternal side that frequently gets her in trouble. She is also a wife and a mother, and a cancer patient. All of these drag personal issues into her case.

Those We Left Behind centers around two young offenders from early in Flanagan's career. Thomas and Ciaran Devine brutally murdered their foster father and spent the last few years in juvenile detention, but have now been let out as young men. Unfortunately, the elder Devine brother, Thomas, is as crazy as ever, and his younger brother Ciaran is still under his thumb. When the son of the man they murdered comes looking for closure, everything begins to unravel. Flanagan, who always believed something was wrong with the story the brothers gave in their confession, becomes involved, determined to "save" the softer, more vulnerable Ciaran whom she believes took the fall for his older brother.

As in all of Neville's books, there is a lot of gritty noir violence, cops and politicians who are skunks, and one good cop or two trying to do the right thing. Flanagan's superiors keep telling her to butt out of cases she's not assigned to and of course she keeps disobeying them, because of course she's always right when she thinks something is off about the official narrative.

Flanagan becomes a more sympathetic character than Jack Lennon was, but she's not just a woman doing a man's job. Her way of dealing with cases and suspects is different and it is affected by her being a woman and a mother. I found it realistic and well-written, very much like one of those better BBC detective dramas.

Also by Stuart Neville: My reviews of The Ghosts of Belfast, Collusion, Stolen Souls, and The Final Silence.

My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: books, reviews, stuart neville

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