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BookBrowse Reviews So Say the Fallen by Stuart Neville

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So Say the Fallen

The Belfast Novels

by Stuart Neville

So Say the Fallen by Stuart Neville X
So Say the Fallen by Stuart Neville
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2016, 336 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 2017, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Gary Presley
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A simple case that should be wrapped up in a few days. But something doesn't feel right to Belfast detective Serena Flanagan...

Noir crime fiction – Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett anyone? – is an American invention, but when it goes international, one gifted practitioner of the black art of whodunit is Northern Ireland's Stuart Neville. In So Say the Fallen, Neville dissects the machinations of a beautiful female sociopath. This is the second in the series, but it it can be read as a stand-alone.

It's left to Detective Chief Inspector Serena Flanagan to set things right, but Serena is distracted by troubles of her own. Her family is recovering from a violent home invasion tied to her police work. Serena's husband was injured, and now he's pressing her to quit the force. She can't do that. Husband and wife are at an impasse, barely speaking. Perhaps her unsettled home life is the catalyst for Serena's suspicions when she's called to investigate a presumed suicide. Prosperous local car dealer Henry Garrick lost his legs six months previously in a horrible traffic accident, which also left him burned and disfigured, and he had returned home to recuperate with the help of his beautiful younger second wife, Roberta. Henry was in constant pain, ameliorated only by regulated doses of morphine, but his attitude remained positive and upbeat. There was no reason to suspect Henry would take enough morphine to assure a permanent sleep.

Serena can't put her finger on exactly why she doesn't believe Henry killed himself, but she pushes past the objections of both her boss, Purdy, and a local grandstanding politician, and is able to prove that he was murdered.

Serena's a wonderfully nuanced protagonist, soldiering on toward justice in spite of opposition and her own best interests, even while struggling with her own depression. She doesn't want her marriage to end, mostly because her husband's unhappiness, exacerbated by the demands of her job, is jeopardizing her relationship with her children. Some will view her husband with sympathy; others will say "wimp," which illustrates once again Neville's ability with characterization. And so it goes with Purdy too, a truly multi-faceted character. He is a week from retirement, but is willing to give Serena her due, especially because he considers her a friend and a first-class detective. Purdy swallows his own doubts, and even pushes hard to keep his superiors out of the way.

The story's pace moves along quickly, with a narrative that drops no stumbling blocks as Serena saddles up her VW Golf and flits from Morgantown to Lisburn in the wet and windy suburbs of Belfast. The dialog isn't heavy with Irish brogue, but it's flavored with enough Irish color to add distinction.

As with most noir, So Say the Fallen is a novel about the monsters that roam among us, unseen until they strike; it's about greed, lust, and manipulation. It's also about a sense of duty that sometimes costs too much personally. But Neville, like other sophisticated crime writers – think James Lee Burke or Dennis Lehane – isn't afraid of exploring themes beyond thou shalt not shoot nor stab nor poison nor drown.

It's also a nuanced narrative threaded with underlying sexual tension and the exploration of faith in the modern world. Here the good rector McKay, a widower, has lost his faith in Roberta Garrick's bed, leaving him to stand in his pulpit, "his stare fixed on her as he recited the words, just shapes in his mouth, no meaning to them whatsoever." Ironically, the jaded-by-job Serena, at the behest of apostate McKay, finds comfort in prayer. That narrative thread fits perfectly.

Both realistic and perceptive, Neville's mysteries, with an every-woman protagonist who worries over kids and husband and pressures from the job, is proving a worthy addition to the noir canon.

Reviewed by Gary Presley

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in October 2016, and has been updated for the July 2017 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
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