Monday 8 June 2009

A Wee Review - The Twelve by Stuart Neville

Stuart Neville is of a new generation of writer. He cut his teeth on the internet through short story sales to small press publications, and is the perfect example of a writer who’s taken note of all the advice out there for the literary minded. He honed his craft through online critiquing and the internet played a big role in his road to publication. Cherry-picked by super-agent Nat Sobel after his short story featured on ThugLit, an online magazine, his literary profile has rocketed over the last year and it seems that the sky’s the limit for this budding writing career.

Neville’s debut, The Twelve, is a blistering Belfast-set thriller. The narrative centres on the actions of Gerry Fegan, a Republican hitman put out to pasture in the new Northern Irish political climate. But Fegan’s past has come back to haunt him, in the form of twelve ghosts, and they’ve driven him towards a bloody road to redemption.

The Twelve is marketed as a thriller, though there are crime, noir and horror elements in this genre straddling novel. The reader can’t be sure if the twelve ghosts are real or only exist in the protagonist’s mind, but they create a creepiness that pervades the story. Neville accomplished the difficult task of making a brutal killer a sympathetic character. Fegan’s guilt and the resulting alcoholism contradict his reputation as a cold-hearted assassin somewhat, and this softens the reader a little. But it’s not until the realistic love interest enters the equation that we really get to see, and begin to like, Fegan.

The novel’s antagonist, Campbell, is a very interesting character too. Really, by traditional values, he should be the good guy. His task is to end Fegan’s rampage before it destroys the peace process and cripples Stormont. And yet, I didn’t really like the sneaky fecker for most of the novel. But where Neville exercises his writing skill once again, is in making the reader care about Campbell, even if he is a git.

Paramilitaries, ex-paramilitaries, politicians and all the mixes in between are drawn perfectly and act and speak authentically in The Twelve. And I think Neville achieves this with the right balance of contempt and respect. There is no mistaking Neville’s feelings for the Troubles in reading this book, but his personal politics are not shoved in your face. He stays true to the story and the characters, and for that, Stuart Neville deserves serious kudos.

I predict The Twelve will launch Neville’s career -- that’s a no-brainer. But as excellent as it is, I’m dying to read his next one because I reckon he’ll raise the bar (no pressure, like). Just another year to go, I suppose. A top class effort from a top class writer. Essential reading for anybody who wants to get to grips with the new Northern Ireland. Be sure to grab a copy when it hits the shelves in early July. Oh, and if you’re an American reader, you should look out for the same novel under the title The Ghosts of Belfast in a few months time.


Declan Burke said...

Yep, it's top, top stuff. For once, Mr Brennan, we're in agreement ...

Cheers, Dec

Josephine Damian said...

Colm Toibin recently made a point about how Irish writers are much more supportive of each other than English writers, especially when it comes to promoting each others books. You and the other NI/I writers sure prove that every day.

Great review, GB. How's your own book coming along?

Gerard Brennan said...

Dec - Agreement, eh? Why does that make me feel uneasy?

Josephine - Thanks for that. It's nice to be nice and all that.

RE my book... I wanted to work on it on my lunchbreak today but I forgot to lift my flash drive! I'll have to find an extra hour tonight. Thanks for asking. I need the pressure.



Chris said...

Can't wait to read it!

Unknown said...

Can't wait for this to come out in July. . .oh wait, it comes out everywhere else in the world in July except the U.S., where it doesn't come out until October. All the same, can't wait, it sounds amazing.

seana graham said...

The fall will be here before we know it, Keith! I checked it out as well.

Great review, Gerard. Sure, we all know you aren't as nice as all that, but it will make you look good in front of your kids, and that's all that really matters.

Well, no--if it's pressure you want, better get cracking before I find out about it.

You think I'm kidding? I'm not kidding.

Gerard Brennan said...

Chris and Keith - Anticipation, eh? Well, unlike most hyped books, this one won't disappoint.

Seana - I'm nice!

Well, actually, not ALL the time.

And I'm cracking, I'm cracking. Think I wrote more last night than I have in the previous two weeks.



seana graham said...

There you go! But don't think you can let up just because you've put a solid evening's work in.

I know you're nice, Gerard. Just a little hard to reconcile with your thug lit and your sordid past, is all.

Gerard Brennan said...

Seana - Hmmmm, I see your conundrum now.

And don't worry. I'll keep a lead foot on the gas!


adrian mckinty said...

WELL DONE STU, this sounds like a brilliant book.

Gonna see if I finagle a copy.

Or, er, buy one.

Nice reviewing Brennan. Kept the spoilers down down down which I appreciate.

adrian mckinty said...


Colm Toibin?

That good for nothing baldy bastard!

That supportive enough for ya?

Kidding of course.

Colm is the man. Sent me a signed copy of The Master which was very decent.

Gerard Brennan said...

Adrian - Cheers! I like to find out what happens in a book by reading it. Don't even read back cover blurbs when I can avoid them.

Hope you land a copy.


Michael Stone said...

This will be out just in time for my birthday, so no problem answering the sibling folk when they ask me what I want.

Gerard Brennan said...

Mike - Couldn't recommend it more highly, mate.