I don't have the faintest idea of the internal machinations of Northern Ireland over the last 90 years. It is daunting particularly because the events are treated as sacrosanct. What I know falls into whatever THE CRYING GAME, MICHAEL COLLINS, SUNDAY, BLOODY, SUNDAY, HUNGER, and IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER have decided to tell me. It is an overwhelming historical event that intimidates rather than ingratiates the uneducated to come to some half-baked understanding of its causes. I mean is it trite to say that the whole thing is a mess and both sides have blood on their hands?
However, as a cultural and societal phenomenon Northern Ireland and the Troubles are terribly fertile grounds. Stuart Neville tries to tackle the whole bloody mess with THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST. Gerry Fegan is a button man, an assassin. When he was ordered to kill he did so with the understanding that he was helping to bring about a free Northern Ireland. But now it is years later. The younger generation is more interested in designer fashions and Starbucks then a 'free' Northern Ireland. Gerry Fagan is older now too. Truly haunted by the deaths he played a part, he is also under no illusions what his true role was in the struggle. A pawn in a petty contest of egos. Gerry Fagan is done. And for his final act he wants to bring about peace for the souls he took, the ghosts that follow him. He is a bringer of doom and an avenging angel. And if it all wasn't so captivating I would accuse Mr. Neville of wanting it both ways. It is an interesting play by the author as it is easy to see Gerry's retribution only as selfish act to expunge the horror he has created without taking responsibility for his direct involvement. A guilt ridden assassin who somehow forgets to kill the single most important person, himself, in his quest for absolution. It is the big question that is asked but not answered.
One of these days I'll decide if that fatally cripples the book, and the projected series, or not. What Mr. Neville does get right, and in spades, is that people are not just damned for the lies, cheating, stealing, and brutal murders they commit, but mainly they are damned for the corruption of their soul. THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST is a baptism, a rebirth of one man trying to freeing his soul.