The Ghosts of Belfast

The Ghosts of Belfast

4.1 129
by Stuart Neville

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A New York Times Notable Book and Winner of The Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Neville's debut remains "a flat-out terror trip" (James Ellroy) and "one of the best Irish novels, in any genre, of recent times" (John Connolly).

Northern Ireland’s Troubles may be over, but peace has not erased the crimes of the past. Gerry Fegan, a

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A New York Times Notable Book and Winner of The Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Neville's debut remains "a flat-out terror trip" (James Ellroy) and "one of the best Irish novels, in any genre, of recent times" (John Connolly).

Northern Ireland’s Troubles may be over, but peace has not erased the crimes of the past. Gerry Fegan, a former paramilitary contract killer, is haunted by the ghosts of the twelve people he slaughtered. Every night, at the point of losing his mind, he drowns their screams in drink. But it’s not enough. In order to appease the ghosts, Fegan is going to have to kill the men who gave him orders.

From the greedy politicians to the corrupt security forces, the street thugs to the complacent bystanders who let it happen, all are called to account. But when Fegan’s vendetta threatens to derail a hard-won truce and destabilize the government, old comrades and enemies alike want him dead.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for The Ghosts of Belfast


“Not only one of the finest thriller debuts of the last ten years, but also one of the best Irish novels, in any genre, of recent times.”
John Connolly

“Neville’s novel is a coldly lucid assessment of the fragility of the Irish peace . . . A rare example of legitimate noir fiction.”
The New York Times Book Review

"Perfect for summer—especially if you want to be reminded of what a blessing it is to live in relatively peaceful times."

“The best first novel I’ve read in years . . . It’s a flat-out terror trip.”
James Ellroy

The Ghosts of Belfast is a smart and atmospheric thriller about the many causes served and corrupt pockets lined courtesy of sectarian hatred.”
Maureen Corrigan,

"Stuart Neville is Ireland's answer to Henning Mankell."
Ken Bruen

“Stuart Neville's tightly wound, emotionally resonant account of an ex-IRA hit man's struggle to conquer his past, displays an acute understanding of the true state of Northern Ireland, still under the thumb of decades of violence and terrorism.”
Los Angeles Times

“Both a fine novel and a gripping thriller: truly this is a magnificent debut.”
Ruth Dudley Edwards, author of Ten Lords-A-Leaping

“Stuart Neville goes to the heart of the perversity of paramilitarism.”
Sean O’Callaghan, author of The Informer

“An astonishing debut. Brilliantly conceived, masterfully written, Stuart Neville’s The Ghosts of Belfast is both a heart-pounding thriller and a stunning examination of responsibility and revenge. He is going to be a major new voice in suspense fiction.”
Jeff Abbott

“Stuart Neville will go far as a writer . . . It’s a wonderful novel, brave and fierce and true to its place and time. I sincerely hope it sells a million copies.”

"Stuart Neville delivers an inspired, gritty view of how violence’s aftermath lasts for years and the toll it takes on each person involved. The Ghosts of Belfast also insightfully delves into Irish politics, the uneasy truce in Northern Ireland, redemption, guilt and responsibility.”
Oline Cogdill, Mystery Scene

“Stuart Neville belongs to a younger generation of writers for whom the region's darkest years are history—but that history endures, as his first novel, The Ghosts of Belfast, shockingly demonstrates . . . In scene after gruesome scene, Neville attempts to persuade us that this time around, with this repentant murderer, the killing is different.”
—The Washington Post

“Neville’s debut is as unrelenting as Fegan’s ghosts, pulling no punches as it describes the brutality of Ireland’s 'troubles' and the crime that has followed, as violent men find new outlets for their skills. Sharp prose places readers in this pitiless place and holds them there. Harsh and unrelenting crime fiction, masterfully done.”
Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
“A stunning debut . . . This is not only an action-packed, visceral thriller but also an insightful insider’s glimpse into the complex political machinations and networks that maintain the uneasy truce in Northern Ireland.”
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“In this well-crafted and intriguing series debut, Neville evokes the terrors of living in Belfast during 'the Troubles' and manages to makes Fegan, a murderer many times over, a sympathetic character…The buzz around this novel is well deserved and readers will be anticipating the next book in the series.”
Library Journal, Starred Review

“Explosive and absorbing . . . The Ghosts of Belfast is an intense meditation on obligation, necessity, and war. Within Stuart Neville’s rich vocabulary, complacency is not a word to be found.”
Sacramento News and Review

The Ghosts of Belfast is a tale of revenge and reconciliation shrouded in a bloody original crime thriller . . . Fierce dialogue and the stark political realities of a Northern Ireland recovering from the ‘Troubles’ drive this novel. It's not difficult to read this brilliant book as an allegory for a brutal past that must be confronted so the present ‘can be clean.’”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“In his stunning debut, Stuart Neville delivers an inspired, gritty view of how violence's aftermath lasts for years and the toll it takes on each person involved. The Ghosts of Belfast also insightfully delves into Irish politics, the uneasy truce in Northern Ireland, redemption, guilt and responsibility . . . Neville delivers an emotionally packed novel that is both empathetic and savage. Neville never makes Gerry's visions of ghosts seem trite or silly. Like his countryman, John Connolly, Neville keeps the supernatural aspects believable . . . The Ghosts of Belfast is a haunting debut.”
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

“If you by chance have never read Stuart Neville’s Belfast Trilogy, it’s time to redeem yourself.”
Grift Magazine

“A brilliant thriller: unbearably tense, stomach churningly frightening . . . A future classic of its time.”
The Observer

“Stuart Neville's blistering debut thriller is a walk on the wild side of post-conflict Northern Ireland that brilliantly exposes the suffering still lurking beneath the surface of reconciliation and the hypocrisies that sustain the peace.”
Metro (UK)

“Neville has the talent to believably blend the tropes of the crime novel and those of a horror, in the process creating a page-turning thriller akin to a collaboration between John Connolly and Stephen King.”
Sunday Independent (Ireland)

“A gripping, original thriller."
The Sunday Times

“[Neville] is . . . uniquely, tragically equipped to be able to think through complex issues of justice and mercy.”
Irish Times

Marilyn Stasio
…so bleak and despairing—"noir" in the genuine existential sense—it would rattle the composure of a saint…For something that reads as if it were written in a hellish fury, Neville's novel is a coldly lucid assessment of the fragility of the Irish peace.
—The New York Times
Anna Mundow
…the book's sections are numbered like a countdown, from 12 to 1 for the avenging ghosts, but the predictable action is complicated by a clever espionage twist…With the exception of Fegan, for whom we are expected to feel some sympathy, Neville's portraits of the IRA leadership and its foot soldiers are clear-eyed and unforgiving (the British officials, by contrast, are rather cartoonish). Northern Ireland's recent historical background is also deftly compressed, albeit with a few too many journalistic cliches. The moral of The Ghosts of Belfast, voiced by the mother of a murdered boy, is that "everybody pays." Even when peace is declared and even when killers become politicians.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
With this stunning debut, Neville joins a select group of Irish writers, including Ken Bruen, Declan Hughes and Adrian McKinty, who have reinvigorated the noir tradition with a Celtic edge. Gerry Fegan, a former IRA hit man haunted by the ghosts of the 12 people he killed, realizes the only way these specters will give him rest is to systematically assassinate the men who gave him his orders. Though those in the militant IRA underworld have written him off as a babbling drunk and a liability to the movement, they take note when their members start turning up dead. Meanwhile, Fegan is attracted to Marie McKenna, a relative of one of the newly slain men and a pariah to the Republicans. Can Fegan satisfy his demons and redeem himself, or will the ghosts of Belfast consume him first? This is not only an action-packed, visceral thriller but also an insightful insider’s glimpse into the complex political machinations and networks that maintain the uneasy truce in Northern Ireland. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Former IRA killer Gerry Fegan is literally haunted by the past: 12 ghosts follow him, the victims of his days as a "hard man." Although Belfast is no longer a war zone, the IRA bosses are still in charge, and the ghosts want them dead. Oblivious to the precarious state of the political situation in Northern Ireland and how his actions might affect it, Fegan tries to win some peace for himself by satisfying the ghosts' desire for revenge, only to find himself hunted in return, not only by former IRA heavies but by the British as well. His budding relationship with a woman and her child who are also threatened by the IRA show him that another type of life is possible but at the same time makes him vulnerable. Verdict In this well-crafted and intriguing series debut, Neville evokes the terrors of living in Belfast during "the Troubles" and manages to makes Fegan, a murderer many times over, a sympathetic character. VERDICT The buzz around this novel is well deserved and readers will be anticipating the next book in the series. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ 6/1/09; this was published in July as The Twelve to great acclaim in the U.K.—Ed.] —Lisa Hanson O'Hara, Univ. of Manitoba Libs., Winnipeg
Kirkus Reviews
The IRA may have made peace with England, but decades of violence still haunt a former terrorist. One-time IRA hard man Gerry Fegan is out of prison. But the 12 people he killed (three while out of jail on compassionate leave for his mother's funeral) won't let him forget the past. For the seven years since his release, Belfast native Fegan has been troubled by these dozen silent and accusing figures, and no amount of drink has driven the ghosts away. So when his old running buddy, Sinn Fein Assembly member Michael McKenna, shows up to ask why Fegan has revealed the site of a body dump to a victim's still-grieving mother, he follows the direction of one spectral victim and shoots McKenna. The killing ignites a firestorm of old rivalries and paranoia; it's a crime against Fegan's former brotherhood that makes him an outlaw among his own kind, but it's also the beginning of possible salvation, as the haunted, wasted gunman realizes he must avenge his ghosts to find peace. But even murder isn't simple, especially when McKenna's beautiful niece Marie and her daughter Ellen get caught up in the violence. First in a proposed series, Neville's debut is as unrelenting as Fegan's ghosts, pulling no punches as it describes the brutality of Ireland's "troubles" and the crime that has followed, as violent men find new outlets for their skills. Sharp prose places readers in this pitiless place and holds them there. Harsh and unrelenting crime fiction, masterfully done.

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Product Details

Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date:
Belfast Novels Series, #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.30(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Maybe if he had one more drink they’d leave him alone. Gerry Fegan told himself that lie before every swallow. He chased the whiskey’s burn with a cool black mouthful of Guinness and placed the glass back on the table. Look up and they’ll be gone, he thought.
No. They were still there, still staring. Twelve of them if he counted the baby in its mother’s arms.
He was good and drunk now. When his stomach couldn’t hold any more he would let Tom the barman show him to the door, and the twelve would follow Fegan through the streets of Belfast, into his house, up his stairs, and into his bedroom. If he was lucky, and drunk enough, he might pass out before their screaming got too loud to bear. That was the only time they made a sound, when he was alone and on the edge of sleep. When the baby started crying, that was the worst of it.
Fegan raised the empty glass to get Tom’s attention.
“Haven’t you had enough, Gerry?” Tom asked. “Is it not home time yet? Everyone’s gone.”
“One more,” Fegan said, trying not to slur. He knew Tom would not refuse. Fegan was still a respected man in West Belfast, despite the drink.
Sure enough, Tom sighed and raised a glass to the optic. He brought the whiskey over and counted change from the stained table -
top. The gummy film of old beer and grime sucked at his shoes as he walked away.
Fegan held the glass up and made a toast to his twelve companions.
One of the five soldiers among them smiled and nodded in return.
The rest just stared.
“Fuck you,” Fegan said. “Fuck the lot of you.”
None of the twelve reacted, but Tom looked back over his shoulder. He shook his head and continued walking to the bar.
Fegan looked at each of his companions in turn. Of the five soldiers three were Brits and two were Ulster Defence Regiment.
Another of the followers was a cop, his Royal Ulster Constabulary uniform neat and stiff, and two more were Loyalists, both Ulster
Freedom Fighters. The remaining four were civilians who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. He remembered doing all of them, but it was the civilians whose memories screamed the loudest.
There was the butcher with his round face and bloody apron. Fegan had dropped the package in his shop and held the door for the woman and her baby as she wheeled the pram in. They’d smiled at each other.
He’d felt the heat of the blast as he jumped into the already moving car, the blast that should have come five minutes after they’d cleared the place.
The other was the boy. Fegan still remembered the look in his eyes when he saw the pistol. Now the boy sat across the table, those same eyes boring into him.
Fegan couldn’t hold his gaze, so he turned his eyes downward.
Tears pooled on the tabletop. He brought his fingers to the hollows of his face and realised he’d been weeping.
“Jesus,” he said.
He wiped the table with his sleeve and sniffed back the tears. The pub’s stale air clung to the back of his throat, as thick as the duncolored paint on the walls. He scolded himself. He neither needed nor deserved pity, least of all his own. Weaker men than him could live with what they’d done. He could do the same.
A hand on his shoulder startled him.
“Time you were going, Gerry,” Michael McKenna said.
Tom slipped into the storeroom behind the bar. McKenna paid him to be discreet, to see and hear nothing.
Fegan knew the politician would come looking for him. He was smartly dressed in a jacket and trousers, and his fine-framed designer glasses gave him the appearance of an educated man. A far cry from the teenager Fegan had run the streets with thirty years ago. Wealth looked good on him.
“I’m just finishing,” Fegan said.
“Well, drink up and I’ll run you home.” McKenna smiled down at him, his teeth white and even. He’d had them fixed so he could look presentable for the cameras. The party leadership had insisted on it before they gave him the nomination for his seat in the Assembly. At one time, not so long past, it had been against party policy to take a seat at Stormont. But times change, even if people don’t.
“I’ll walk,” Fegan said. “It’s only a couple of minutes.”
“It’s no trouble,” McKenna said. “Besides, I wanted a word.”
Fegan nodded and took another mouthful of stout. He held it on his tongue when he noticed the boy had risen from his place on the other side of the table. It took a moment to find him, shirtless and skinny as the day he died, creeping up behind McKenna.
The boy pointed at the politician’s head. He mimed firing, his hand thrown upwards by the recoil. His mouth made a plosive movement, but no sound came.
Fegan swallowed the Guinness and stared at the boy. Something stirred in his mind, one memory trying to find another. The chill at his center pulsed with his heartbeat.
“Do you remember that kid?” he asked.
“Don’t, Gerry.” McKenna’s voice carried a warning.
“I met his mother today. I was in the graveyard and she came up to me.”
“I know you did,” McKenna said, taking the glass from Fegan’s fingers.
“She said she knew who I was. What I’d done. She said—”
“Gerry, I don’t want to know what she said. I’m more curious about what you said to her. That’s what we need to talk about. But not here.” McKenna squeezed Fegan’s shoulder. “Come on, now.”
“He hadn’t done anything. Not really. He didn’t tell the cops anything they didn’t know already. He didn’t deserve that. Jesus, he was seventeen. We didn’t have to—”
One hard hand gripped Fegan’s face, the other his thinning hair,
and the animal inside McKenna showed itself. “Shut your fucking mouth,” he hissed. “Remember who you’re talking to.”
Fegan remembered only too well. As he looked into those fierce blue eyes he remembered every detail. This was the face he knew, not the one on television, but the face that burned with white-hot pleasure as McKenna set about the boy with a claw hammer, the face that was dotted with red when he handed Fegan the .22 pistol to finish it.
Fegan gripped McKenna’s wrists and prised his hands away. He stamped on his own anger, quashed it.
The smile returned to McKenna’s lips as he pulled his hands away from Fegan’s, but went no further. “Come on,” he said. “My car’s outside. I’ll run you home.”
The twelve followed them out to the street, the boy sticking close to McKenna. McKenna had climbed high in the party hierarchy, but not so high he needed an escort to guard him. Even so, Fegan knew the Mercedes gleaming in the orange street lights was armored, both bullet- and bomb-proof. McKenna probably felt safe as he lowered himself into the driver’s seat.
“Big day today,” McKenna said as he pulled the car away from the curb, leaving the followers staring after them. “Sorting the offices up at Stormont, my own desk and everything. Who’d have thought it,
eh? The likes of us up on the hill. I wangled a secretary’s job for the wife. The Brits are throwing so much money at this I almost feel bad taking it off them. Almost.”
McKenna flashed Fegan a smile. He didn’t return it.
Fegan tried to avoid seeing or reading the news as much as he could,
but the last two months had been a hurricane of change. Just five months ago, as one year turned to the next, they’d said it was hopeless;
the political process was beyond repair. Then mountains moved, deals were struck, another election came and went, while the shadows gathered closer to Fegan. And more often than before, those shadows turned to faces and bodies and arms and legs. Now they were a constant, and he couldn’t remember when he last slept without first drowning them in whiskey.
They’d been with him since his last weeks in the Maze prison, a little over seven years ago. He’d just been given his release date,
printed on a sheet of paper in a sealed envelope, and his mouth was dry when he opened it. The politicians on the outside had bartered for his freedom, along with hundreds more men and women. They called people like him political prisoners. Not murderers or thieves, not extortionists or blackmailers. Not criminals of any kind, just victims of circumstance. The followers were there when Fegan looked up from the letter, watching.
He told one of the prison psychologists about it. Dr. Brady said it was guilt. A manifestation, he called it. Fegan wondered why people seldom called things by their real names.
McKenna pulled the Mercedes into the curb outside Fegan’s small terraced house on Calcutta Street. It stood shoulder to shoulder with two dozen identical red-brick boxes, drab and neat. The followers waited on the pavement.
“Can I come in for a second?” McKenna’s smile sparkled in the car’s interior lighting, and kind lines arced out from around his eyes.
“Better to talk inside, eh?”
Fegan shrugged and climbed out.
The twelve parted to let him approach his door. He unlocked it and went inside, McKenna following, the twelve slipping in between.
Fegan headed straight for the sideboard where a bottle of Jameson’s and a jug of water awaited him. He showed McKenna the bottle.
“No, thanks,” McKenna said. “Maybe you shouldn’t, either.”
Fegan ignored him, pouring two fingers of whiskey into a glass and the same of water. He took a deep swallow and extended his hand towards a chair.
“No, I’m all right,” McKenna said. His hair was well barbered, his skin tanned and smooth, a scar beneath his left eye the only remainder of his old self.
The twelve milled around the sparsely furnished room, merging with and diverging from the shadows, studying each man intently.
The boy lingered by McKenna’s side as the politician went to the unstrung guitar propped in the corner. He picked it up and turned it in the light.
 “Since when did you play guitar?” McKenna asked.
“I don’t,” Fegan said. “Put it down.”
McKenna read the label inside the sound hole. “Martin. Looks old.
What’s it doing here?”
“It belonged to a friend of mine. I’m restoring it,” Fegan said. “Put it down.”
“What friend?”
“Just someone I knew inside. Please. Put it down.”
McKenna set it back in the corner. “It’s good to have friends,
Gerry. You should value them. Listen to them.”
“What’d you want to talk about?” Fegan lowered himself into a chair.
McKenna nodded at the drink in Fegan’s hand. “About that, for one thing. It’s got to stop, Gerry.”
Fegan held the politician’s eyes as he drained the glass.
“People round here look up to you. You’re a Republican hero. The young fellas need a role model, someone they can respect.”
“Respect? What are you talking about?” Fegan put the glass on the coffee table. The chill of condensation clung to his palm and he let his hands slide together, working the moisture over his knuckles and between his fingers. “There’s no respecting what I’ve done.”
McKenna’s face flushed with anger. “You did your time. You were a political prisoner for twelve years. A dozen years of your life given up for the cause. Any Republican should respect that.” His expression softened. “But you’re pissing it away, Gerry. People are starting to notice. Every night you’re at the bar, drunk off your face, talking to yourself.”
“I’m not talking to myself.” Fegan went to point at the followers,
but thought better of it.
“Then who are you talking to?” McKenna’s voice wavered with an exasperated laugh.
“The people I killed. The people we killed.”
“Watch your mouth, Gerry. I never killed anybody.”
Fegan met McKenna’s blue eyes. “No, the likes of you and
McGinty were always too smart to do it yourselves. You used mugs like me instead.”
McKenna folded his arms across his barrel chest. “Nobody’s hands are clean.”
“What else?” Fegan asked. “You said ‘for one thing’. What else do you want?”
McKenna circled the room, the boy following, and Fegan had to twist in his chair to keep him in sight. “I need to know what you told that woman,” McKenna said.
“Nothing,” Fegan said. “I’m not much of a talker. You know that.”
“No, you’re not. But a reliable source tells me the cops are going to start digging up the bogs near Dungannon in the next few days.
Round about where we buried that boy. His mother told them where to look.” McKenna moved to the center of the room and loomed over
Fegan. “Now, how did she know that, Gerry?”
“Does it matter?” Fegan asked. “Jesus, there’ll be nothing left of him. It’s been more than twenty years.”
“It matters,” McKenna said. “If you open your mouth, you’re a tout. And you know what happens to touts.”
Fegan tightened his fingers on the chair’s armrests.
McKenna leaned down, his hands on his thighs. “Why, Gerry?
Why’d you tell her? What good did you think it’d do?”
Fegan searched for a lie, anything, but found nothing. “I thought maybe he’d leave me alone,” he said.
“What?” McKenna straightened.
“I thought he’d go,” Fegan said. He looked at the boy aiming his fingers at McKenna’s head. “I thought he’d leave me alone. Give me some peace.”
McKenna took a step back. “Who? The boy?”
“But that wasn’t what he wanted.”
“Christ, Gerry.” McKenna shook his head. “What’s happened to you? Maybe you should see a doctor, you know, get straight. Go away for a while.”
Fegan looked down at his hands. “Maybe.”
“Listen.” McKenna put a hand on Fegan’s shoulder. “My source talks only to me, nobody else. You’ve been a good friend to me over the years, and that’s the only reason I haven’t gone to McGinty with this. If he knew you opened your mouth to that auld doll, it’s your body the cops would be looking for.”
Fegan wanted to jerk his shoulder away from McKenna’s hand. He sat still.
“Of course, I might need you to return the favor. There’s work I
could put your way. I’ve a few deals going on, stuff McGinty isn’t in on. If you can stay off the drink, get yourself right, you could be a big help to me. And McGinty doesn’t need to know what you said to that boy’s mother.”
Fegan watched the boy’s face contort as the other shadows gathered around him.
“Do you understand what I’m saying to you, Gerry?”
“Yes,” Fegan said.
“Good man.” McKenna smiled.
Fegan stood. “I need a piss.”
McKenna stepped back and said, “Don’t be long.”
Fegan made his way up the stairs and into the bathroom. He closed and bolted the door but, as always, the followers found their way in.
Except the boy. Fegan paid it little mind, instead concentrating on keeping upright while he emptied his bladder. He had long since gotten used to the twelve witnessing his most undignified moments.
He flushed, rinsed his hands under the tap, and opened the door.
The boy was there, on the landing, waiting for him. He stared into the darkness of Fegan’s bedroom.
Fegan stood for a moment, confused, as his temples buzzed and the chill pulsed at his center.
The boy pointed into the room.
“What?” Fegan asked.
The boy bared his teeth, and his skinny arm jerked towards the door.
“All right,” Fegan said. He walked to his bedroom, glancing back over his shoulder.
The boy followed him into the darkness and kneeled at the foot of the bed. He pointed underneath.
Fegan got to his hands and knees and peered under the bedstead.
Thin light leaking in from the landing showed the old shoebox hidden there.
He raised his head, questioning. The boy nodded.
Fegan could just reach it if he stretched. He pulled it towards himself. Something heavy shifted inside as it moved, and Fegan’s heart quickened. He removed the lid and was met by the greasy smell of money. Rolls of banknotes were bundled in here, twenties, fifties,
hundreds. Fegan didn’t know how much. He’d never counted it.
But there was something else, something cold and black lying halfconcealed in the paper. Something Fegan didn’t want in his hand. In the semi-darkness his eyes found the boy’s.
“No,” Fegan said.
The boy stabbed at the object with his finger.
“No.” The word felt watery on Fegan’s tongue.
The boy’s mouth gaped, his hands grabbing clumps of hair. Before the scream could come, Fegan reached in and lifted the Walther P99
from its nest.
A grin blossomed on the boy’s face, his teeth glinting. He mimed the act of pulling back the slide assembly to chamber the first round.
Fegan looked from the boy to the pistol and back again. The boy nodded. Fegan drew back the slide, released it, hearing the snick-snick of oiled parts moving together. The gun was solid in his grasp, like the shake of an old friend’s hand.
The boy smiled, stood, and walked towards the landing.
Fegan stared down at the Walther. He had bought it a few weeks after leaving the Maze, just for protection, and it only came out of the box for cleaning. His fingertip found the trigger curled inside the guard.
The boy waited in the doorway.
Fegan got to his feet and followed him to the stairs. The boy descended, the lean grace of his body seemingly untouched by the light below.
Fegan began the slow climb downward. An adrenal surge stirred dark memories, voices long silenced, faces like bloodstains. The others came behind, sharing glances with one another. As he reached the bottom, he saw McKenna’s back. The politician studied the old photograph of Fegan’s mother, the one that showed her young and pretty in a doorway.
The boy crossed the room and again played out the execution of the man who had taken him apart with a claw hammer more than twenty years ago.
Fegan’s heart thundered, his lungs heaved. Surely McKenna would hear.
The boy looked to Fegan and smiled.
Fegan asked, “If I do it, will you leave me alone?”
The boy nodded.
“What?” McKenna put the framed picture down. He turned to the voice and froze when he saw the gun aimed at his forehead.
“I can’t do it here.”
The boy’s smile faltered.
“Not in my house. Somewhere else.”
The smile returned.
“Jesus, Gerry.” McKenna gave a short, nervous laugh as he held his hands up. “What’re you at?”
“I’m sorry, Michael. I have to.”
McKenna’s smile fell away. “I don’t get it, Gerry. We’re friends.”
“We’re going to get into your car.” The clarity crackled in Fegan’s head. For the first time in months his hand did not shake.
McKenna’s mouth twisted. “Like fuck we are.”
“We’re going to get into your car,” Fegan repeated. “You in the front, me in the back.”
“Gerry, your head’s away. Put the gun down before you do something you’ll regret.”
Fegan stepped closer. “The car.”
McKenna reached out. “Now, come on, Gerry. Let’s just calm down a second, here, all right? Why don’t you give that to me, and I’ll put it away. Then we’ll have a drink.”
“I won’t say it again.”
“No messing, Gerry, let me have it.”
McKenna went to grab the gun, but Fegan pulled his hand away.
He brought it back to aim at the center of McKenna’s forehead.
“You always were a mad cunt.” McKenna kept his eyes on him as he went to the door. He opened it and stepped out onto the street. He looked left and right, right and left, searching for a witness. When his shoulders slumped, Fegan knew there was no one. This was not the kind of street where curtains twitched.
The Merc’s locking system sensed the key was in range, whirring and clunking as McKenna approached.
“Open the back door,” Fegan said.
McKenna did as he was told.
“Now get in the front and leave the door open till I’m inside.”
Fegan kept the Walther trained on McKenna’s head until he was seated at the steering wheel.
Fegan slid into the back, careful not to touch the leather upholstery with his bare hands. He used a handkerchief to pull the door closed.
Tom had seen him leave with the politician, so his prints around the front passenger seat didn’t matter. McKenna sat quite still with his hands on the wheel.
“Now close the door and go.”
The Merc’s big engine rumbled into life, and McKenna pulled away. Fegan took one glance from the back window and saw the twelve watching from the pavement. The boy stepped out onto the road and waved.
Fegan lay down flat in the cloaking shadows. He pressed the gun’s muzzle against the back of the driver’s seat, exactly where McKenna’s heart would be, if he’d ever had one.

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Meet the Author

Stuart Neville is the author of five other books: Ratlines, shortlisted for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for Best Thriller; Collusion, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Stolen Souls, which The Guardian said “confirms him as the king of Belfast noir”; The Final Silence, nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel; and Those We Left Behind. He lives outside Belfast.

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Ghosts of Belfast 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 129 reviews.
AllPurposeMonkey More than 1 year ago
"All I wanted was some peace. I just wanted to sleep." - Gerry Fegan Set in Belfast in the aftermath of Northern Ireland's Troubles, The Ghosts of Belfast introduces us to ex-con Gerry Fegan. Treated by the locals as a hero for his activities as a "hard man" during the Troubles, activities that got him sent to prison for twelve years, Fegan just wants to leave his past in the past and live out his life in peace. That, unfortunately, isn't going to happen. The guilt of his own conscience weighs heavily enough upon him, but that is not the only burden Fegan has to bear. Shortly before his release from prison Fegan began getting visits. Not from friends or family, but from the ghosts of the twelve people he killed during the Troubles. Sometimes only one or two at a time, other times all twelve at once, when we meet Fegan it has been seven long years since his "followers," as he calls them, first came calling. Tormented to the very edge of sanity, Fegan barely manages to do more each day than wander down to the pub, get drunk, go home and pass out, then get up and do it all over again. One night a friend Fegan used to run with before his time in prison comes to visit him in the pub. Now a smooth talking politician, Fegan's friend, McKenna, was once one of the men Fegan took orders from during the Troubles. Orders that led to deaths including one of Fegan's followers, the one he calls "The Boy." As The Boy circles McKenna in the pub, miming putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger, Fegan comes to believe that what his followers want - no, demand - is justice. The followers want him to put to death those responsible for ordering theirs. Ignoring the potential consequences of killing a politician crucial to the fledgling peace process, not to mention one still very much "connected," Fegan tests his theory by killing McKenna. Sure enough, The Boy disappears. And with that, all in the first fifteen pages, we are off and running. One down, eleven to go. As Fegan systematically seeks to balance the scales, and hopefully save his sanity, the reader is given glimpses back in time to the circumstances under which each of his followers was killed. It's not pretty, as author Stuart Neville provides graphic descriptions of Fegan's past brutality as a hard man. And yet, one never gets the feeling that the depictions of violence are being used gratuitously. Rather, they are necessary to illustrate the events which gave birth to Fegan's extreme guilt, and which justify in his mind the extreme measures he's willing to take to rid himself of that guilt... and of his followers. Part noir, part ghost story, The Ghosts of Belfast is unflinchingly brutal, completely original, and absolutely brilliant. Stuart Neville has most definitely announced his presence with authority.
HistoryHunter12 More than 1 year ago
I loved the writers style and flow of the story its a brutal story with many twist and turns it will keep you on the edge of your seat. The characters are all very colorful people with shady back rounds that came from their struggle for freedom. I was amazed at the level of violence and the brutal tactics of torture used to maintain absolute allegence to their cause yet they still where infiltrated with touts constantly. This book would be a great block buster movie!!!!
BostonRick More than 1 year ago
This first novel is a gripping, edge-of-your-seat read. Neville melds an original concept and a riveting plot to create a top-notch thriller. "The Ghosts of Belfast" is one of those rare books that I truly "missed" when I had finished reading it.
rnoncology More than 1 year ago
I stumbled across this book on B&N and intrigued, read it. I was NOT disappointed. Wow. The story was great, the characters very interesting. I would love to hear more about the main character. He seemed to deserve a better life at the end. The writing really made you see Belfast and Ireland. Hopefully we can expect many more books from this author.
sharno22 More than 1 year ago
Truly the best book I've read in a long time. A gripping story which will grab your attention and not let it go. I'm so glad to see this is the first in a series. Can't wait to read the next one.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Gerry Fegan believed in the cause of freeing Northern Ireland from the British. He was a soldier who did the assigned tasks willing to die for his belief and committed atrocities against adversaries. He felt no remorse when he killed a civilian as collateral damage is the norm in warfare especially urban guerilla warfare. He was able to ignore the greed of his superior officers as long as the cause was just especially with whiskey. However Gerry is not an ordinary soldier as he has always been able to communicate with the dead. While believing in the cause, he could keep the spirits of those he killed in the shadows, but no more. The Good Friday Agreement leaves Gerry free in Belfast living under British Rule and wondering why he believed. Those he followed in combat and went to prison for now serve in Parliament; while they are fat, dumb and wealthy, Fegan feels the guilt of the twelve innocent people he killed; their ghosts demand he do what those fat cats trained him to do: kill his former allies. This is a great haunting war story whether one agreed with the IRA or not as THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST could easily have been the ghosts of Saigon or even Baghdad, as the soldier's psyche depends critically on the cause. The story line is fast-paced and filled with action as Gerry begins his new mission while his former friends send an agent to stop him. Readers will appreciate this thought provoking thriller that will have the audience pondering the prime underlying cause and the short and long term effects. Harriet Klausner
Tigerpaw70 More than 1 year ago
Also published under the title 'The Twelve' This novel is a stunning debut thriller; tension-filled from start to finish telling the fictional story of Gerry Fegan, a former IRA assassin who is haunted by ghosts of his twelve victims. I was grabbed from the first pages and I couldn't read fast enough to see the outcome. The tale begins with the central protagonist, Gerry Fegan, driven to the brink of insanity, haunted and tormented day and night by the terrible memories of the twelve people he killed. Since his release from Maze Prison, he spends his waking moments in a state of inebriation in an attempt to seek refuge from the visions and guilt that continually haunt him. One day through a vision, he sees a possible way out, eliminate the people who contracted these murders and hopefully banished the ghosts of guilt forever and lead a normal life. One by one, Fegan seeks out the master minds and makes them pay for their misguided decisions, a life for a life, gradually clearing the burden hanging heavy over his shoulders. This novel is full of energy creating an escalating sense of tension as you go deeper into it. The author has created a harsh and unrelenting story that dabs into the political and religious landscape of today's Ireland and the fragility of its peace accord. The prose is sharp and emotional. ' Ghosts of Belfast' is a mystery novel with a different spin, brilliantly done and brims with its strong characterization. We see how leaders with self centered ideas manipulate the minds of average people and turn them into puppets, some haunted by their actions for the rest of their life. I enjoyed my time spent with this thought provoking thriller.
Foldog More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent thriller with great political undertones regarding the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Gerry Fegan is a compelling character who you want to empathize with, but who also has a dark history which is hard to ignore. It is Gerry's haunting ghosts who deserve your sympathy. For anyone interested in an Irish thriller, this books satisfies and intrigues. Neville's second book in this series is also excellent - "Collusion." I also suggest Tara French's great Irish detective novels - "In the Woods" and "The Likeness"
magric More than 1 year ago
Fabulouly written, an absolute must-read, even if you find the seemingly never-ending "troubles" of Ireland depressing beyond words. This imaginatively-written book brings the whole thing to life in a way I never would have thought I would enjoy. I'm starting to find these incredible European books; I should have done it much earlier.
Geeper More than 1 year ago
I was absolutely thrilled at finding this book! I am adding Stuart Neville to my list of fav's along with Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly and John Harvey. Can't wait for the next one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
kept my interest throughout
blueberryNY More than 1 year ago
Well-written and fast paced. Fegan is a terribly complex and human protagonist, at once brutal and compassionate, driven by anger, shame, guilt,and ultimately love. Given the violence with which he has lived, the ending is surprising but satisfying. The plot is compelling, and leaves the reader with much to think about and discuss. Neville is a novelist I would read again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a wonderfull mix with paranormal and mafia type hitmen. Ghosts of his past hits haunt him and have him killing those who ordered them dead. I reccomend this, you will not be bored with this one. It is written pretty good and you get the feeling you get to know all the characters, dead and alive. Great read!! Pick it up
jenmurph21 More than 1 year ago
This is a very dark, gritty and haunting novel. I was intrigued by the story line and the character of Gerry Fagan. He's a tortured soul trying to find absolution for his past crimes, and that part was interesting to me. The stuff I didn't care for was the excessive amount of cursing that at times seemed unneccesary. It's very violent, and very harsh, and if that isn't your thing then I don't recommend this book.
Donna-Tully More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book and hope that it is made into a movie! It's fast-paced and well written. Mr. Neville knows how to draw the reader into the characters. I hated to go to sleep at night because I wanted to keep reading. I read my nook during transportation to and from work and on my lunch hour. Finished it in two days - fantastic!
Cassandra Spangler More than 1 year ago
Very good read, some parts are difficult to get through because of the writer's in-depth knowledge of the history and struggles of Ireland's political powers. If I was 15-20 years older it would have been easier for me to follow the story line. But overall, a good read with just to right amount of details to provoke a reader's feelings about the main characters and their thrilling situations. Def. going to read #2 in the series. :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good writing I do not know how accurate it protrays actual events because I am not that familar with them. A lot of blood and guts.
poppaDS More than 1 year ago
This is a good murder mystery with some twists and turns that make for good reading. I takes place in post war Ireland and deals with the how the creators of all the violence coped with peace and becoming obsolete.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I felt a little out of my element when I first started reading,but once I got onto it,it was hard to put down. Not your typical protagonist. I liked the difference.
hafvilla More than 1 year ago
i finished it a few days ago, and still i can't get this book out of my head. the image...narrative...characters...all fascinating. i'm from korea, and the political, regional conflicts inside a single nation this book depict remind me of those of my own country's. anyway, this is a good, very good book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great read. Story line keeps you very interested. Cant wait to read book two. Highly reccommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dark thriller with memorable characters. The character's motivation isn't always fully believable, and some characters are way one-dimensional; but the plot keeps going quickly, the background is dark and believable, and the dialogue is tight. The e-book suffers from hyphenation problems, e.g. "sometimes" will become "some -times", but apart from that is pretty clean.
tedfeit0 9 months ago
The "Troubles" in Northern Ireland have spawned many novels, but none as intense and different as Ghosts. Based on the past efforts of Republicans to force unification with Eire and the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in the North, the novel focuses on the torment of Gerry Fegan who has, as an assassin on orders from above, killed a dozen victims, some of whom were innocent, two of whom he liquidated while on a furlough from prison to attend his mother's funeral. After serving his prison sentence, Fegan returns to Belfast and is given a sinecure by the Party to support him. But he is haunted by the "ghosts" of his victims who demand he avenge them by slaying those responsible for ordering their deaths. The novel is divided into 12 sections, one for each of the avenging ghosts. As Fegan accomplishes each step in the series, complications in the political situation arise as he upsets the delicate balance achieved in the peace process. The story is told basically through the eyes of Fegan and Campbell, an undercover British intelligence operative. Both are viewed sympathetically, although Fegan more so. Each, however, is considered redundant in the present-day province. Meanwhile, British, IRA and other northern Irish personages are treated as hypocritical opportunists. The history of both parts of the Irish isle is gruesome, and the events and characters in the novel emphasize the cost. As one of the "ghosts" states: "Everybody pays." Tightly written and graphically presented, the debut novel was the first in a series, giving the reader much to look forward to. Highly recommended.
TulaneGirl More than 1 year ago
Not sure who recommended this book but it was a fantastic read. This book is set in modern day Ireland - in the aftermath of the Troubles. All the old revolutionary leaders are now part of the machine falling into the politician molds of saving their skin. Enter Fegan. During the Troubles, Fegan was the enforcer. He killed 12 people for his friends and the cause. Now, 30 years on, he lives with the ghosts of regret. The souls of the people he killed haunt him to edge of sanity. He finds that the only way to find any peace in his life is to atone for his past crimes. He sets out to systematically appease his ghosts. This novel is full of suspense and has a pretty unique plot. I'm interested in reading more from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago