Those We Left Behind – Stuart Neville

Published August 5, 2016 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

For two brothers, a debt of violence will be paid over a lifetime.

Ciaran Devine, who made Belfast headlines seven years ago as the “schoolboy killer,” is about to walk free. At the age of twelve, 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.

What did I think?:

I’m not familiar with any of Stuart Neville’s previous works but after this cracking good read and the first offering in the DCI Flanagan series, I’m certain I’m going to be continuing with it and checking out his other books too! Crime fiction actually used to be one of my favourite things to read and is such a popular genre nowadays that it can often spawn many, many books in the genre that have the potential risk of getting a bit “samey,” which is one of the reasons why I broadened by horizons slightly in what I read – just seeking out the ones that were really good or a bit different from the rest. Well, I’m glad to report back that this was one of the really good ones and it has everything going for it including a strong plot line, interesting characters and continuous drama and action throughout.

Our main character, Serena Flanagan, is back at work after an enforced period of absence as she battled breast cancer. Straight away she is dropped back in, supposedly at the easy end by being given a case that she is extremely familiar with – that of two young brothers, Ciaran and Thomas Devine, the former having admitted to brutally killing his foster father when he was just twelve in order to protect his brother from alleged abuse. However, the case was never as clear cut as all that and Serena has her suspicions. She spent a lot of time with Ciaran before he was convicted and what she saw of his relationship with his brother made her incredibly concerned. Thomas seems to hold an odd power over his younger brother that cannot be denied and, in fact, he seems the more violent and out of control of the two boys, yet Ciaran is adamant that it was he who “did the deed” and that he acted alone and in Thomas’ best interests.

Ciaran has just been released from a young offenders institution and is now a young man but unfortunately with the mind of a child who still desperately relies on his brother who served just five years as an accessory to the murder. It is the job of probation officer Paula Cunningham to ease Ciaran back into society but it is clear that he is still very fragile and not up to the perils of the big bad world, especially when Thomas is still such a large and necessary influence in his life. Things get a bit more complicated still when the son of the murdered man appears to be monitoring both Ciaran and Thomas’ activities and is hell-bent on answers (and possibly revenge?) for what happened to his father all those years ago. Then terrible things start happening as Paula and Serena begin working together that make the two women wonder what actually happened on that fateful night, questions over who was really to blame, worries for Ciaran’s safety and indeed, their own as someone decides that certain things should not be meddled with.

As I mentioned previously, I believe this novel is a fantastic addition to the crime genre and certainly stands on its own in terms of content, tension and the excitement factor. I loved that it was set in Belfast as I can’t remember if I’ve read any crime set in Ireland before and it was nice for a bit of a change from the tartan noir, English or American crime that I’m used to. I also really appreciated the strong female characters that headed the story and although I may have struggled with Serena’s decisions (and occasionally shouted “No, don’t DO that!”) at parts of the narrative, she came across as such a normal, interesting individual and I’m excited to learn more about her in the future. Be warned, nothing is as it seems in this book and although you may think you have everything figured out, this author has the potential and the talent to surprise you in the end, he certainly did for me!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):



2 comments on “Those We Left Behind – Stuart Neville

  • There are lots of great Irish writers around at the moment – Claire McGowan has quickly become a favourite of mine, as has Anthony J Quinn, Ken Bruen, Adrian McKinty…watch out Tartan Noir, here comes Celtic Noir!

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