Saturday, 27 June 2015

THOSE WE LEFT BEHIND by Stuart Neville

Those We Left Behind by Stuart Neville
Series: DCI Serena Flanagan Crime Series #1
Genre: Crime Thriller
Format: ARC (Hardcopy)
ISBN: 9781846556975
PublisherHarvill Secker London (25 June 2015)

Source: Publisher/Dead Good Books(GoodReads)


When 12 year old Ciaran Devine confessed to murdering his foster father it sent shock waves through the nation. DCI Serena Flanagan, then an ambitious Detective Sergeant, took Ciaran's confession after days spent earning his trust. He hasn't forgotten the kindness she showed him - in fact, she hasn't left his thoughts in the seven years he's been locked away.

Probation officer Paula Cunningham, now tasked with helping Ciaran re-enter society, suspects there was more to this case than the police uncovered. Ciaran's confession saved his brother Thomas from a far lengthier sentence, and Cunningham can see the unnatural hold Thomas still has over his vulnerable younger brother. When she brings her fears to DCI Flanagan, the years of lies begin to unravel, setting a deadly chain of events in motion.

My Thoughts:
Set in Belfast, 'Those We Left Behind' is an atmospheric and gripping psychological thriller.  A 'must read' for all crime thriller fans.  It follows four key characters, along two timeframes which are seamlessly executed.

Ciaran Devine is being released on parole after serving seven years for killing his foster father. His older brother, Thomas, released two years earlier is anticipating their reunion.
DCI Serena Flanagan has just returned to the department after recovering from breast cancer.
Probation Officer Paula Cunningham has been working with Ciaran to help him adjust to his release from prison.

'Those We Left Behind' is narrated in each character's point of view.  Ciaran portrays a quiet, insular, troubled and anguished child, even as an adult on release it was difficult to imagine him as a nineteen year old man. It was as if he hadn't aged mentally and just remained in the past.  I read somewhere that this often happens. That there is little emotional or mental maturing in very young offenders. Time stays still. They remain in the past, unable to develop or mature. The world moves on leaving them in stasis. The 'outside' becomes a hostile, alien place.  If this was Neville's intention to portray Ciaran as emotionally stunted then he did exactly what he set out to do.

DCI Serena Flanagan shows signs of being a maverick detective as she will fight to achieve what she believes in even if it goes against the grain and causes tension with her superiors. There is also a 
vulnerability about her which comes to the fore during her interviews with Ciaran.

Paula Cunningham, Ciaran's probation officer, believes he is innocent of the crime he confessed to and works towards helping him break free of the unnatural hold his older brother has over him and tell the truth about what happened that night.

Flanagan and Cunningham work together after a murder once again brings the brothers under suspicion. Each endeavour to unburden Ciaran of his loyalty to his brother, but Thomas is not ready to relinquish his hold and be abandoned or betrayed and trouble ensues. 

There is another strand running alongside the main storyline about the paramilitary and the difficulties encountered by the community who want to live as normal a life as possible in the aftermath of 'The Troubles'. This is only touched on with the team leaders where Ciaran finds work, but it certainly has an impact and demonstrates the current tensions and compromises of working and living alongside each other.

'Those We Left Behind' is a character driven, emotional thought-provoking read about abusive sibling relationships and obsession.  Highly compelling it is also about how violent crime affects everyone involved from the perpetrators, to the family of the victim, and the investigating team. Above all it show how there is never any real closure for those left in its aftermath.

'Those We Left Behind' is the first novel I've read by Stuart Neville and I was not disappointed. I look forward to reading what's in store for the main character DCI Serena Flanagan now that she has been awarded justifiably her own series after featuring in Neville's previous novels.

'Those We Left Behind' will surely generate some interesting discussion at book reading groups.  Highly recommended.

About The Author:

Stuart Neville's debut novel, THE TWELVE (published in the USA as THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST), won the Mystery/Thriller category of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and was picked as one of the top crime novels of 2009 by both the New York Times and the LA Times. He has been shortlisted for various awards, including the Barry, Macavity, Dilys awards, as well as the Irish Book Awards Crime Novel of the Year. He has since published three critically acclaimed sequels, COLLUSION, STOLEN SOULS and THE FINAL SILENCE.
His first four novels have each been longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and RATLINES was shortlisted for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger.
Stuart's novels have been translated into various languages, including German, Japanese, Polish, Swedish, Greek and more. The French edition of The Ghosts of Belfast, Les Fantômes de Belfast, won Le Prix Mystère de la Critique du Meilleur Roman Étranger and Grand Prix du Roman Noir Étranger.

His fourth novel, RATLINES, about Nazis harboured by the Irish state following WWII is currently in development for television.

Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of Those We Left Behind was provided by Harvill Secker via Dead Good Books(GoodReads) in exchange for an honest unbiased review.

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