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by Stuart Neville
Soho, October 2010
368 pages
ISBN: 1569478554

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Belfast DI Jack Lennon was a fleeting presence in the first of Neville's Belfast novels, THE TWELVE (aka THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST). Here he is front and centre, as he tries to protect his former lover, Marie McKenna, and their little daughter he does not know from the murderous consequences of the events concluding that first book. He is up against a formidable opponent, however, a figure known only as The Traveller, conscienceless, committed to murder-for-hire, and rendered aphasic by a chunk of Kevlar that lodged in his brain when he was in the military. The Traveller (who probably isn't one) therefore can no longer decipher the written word.

Lennon is up against it in other ways as well. As he tries to find out who is committing a brutal series of murders that come ever closer to Marie and the child, he is warned off in clear terms by his superiors in the force. What emerges ever more clearly is the existence of a widespread corrupt network of former enemies, now united for their common gain and willing to use the old techniques of murder and violent intimidation to that end. Lennon needs an ally and he finds one in half-mad Gerry Fegan, the haunted protagonist of THE TWELVE, who is as committed to Marie and little Ellen as Lennon himself. It is a partnership unlikely to result in a peaceful resolution of differences.

As in the first book, what follows is a chain of assaults and killings, culminating in a grotesque showdown in an isolated country house. Along the way, we learn, along with Lennon, that the past has left a legacy of collusion, which "worked all ways, all directions. We'll never know how far it went." But we do see what it has come to - a nexus of corruption, murderous indifference, and greed at the centre of Belfast life.

It is hardly surprising that the thirty odd years of civil strife known as The Troubles should be handily ended without leaving a simmering history of unresolved conflicts. Nor is it surprising that continuing violent attempts to settle old scores might leave even the most hopeful either cynical or despairing. But the welter of gore and the monomaniacal determination to kill that comprises the climax of this novel goes far beyond any justification as metaphor. As in THE TWELVE, the finale drops off the edge of reason and into a whole different territory and the novel suffers for it.

Still, COLLUSION has moments of great power. It may be flawed, but compared to much of what is turned out as political thriller, it demands a serious reading.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, October 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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