THE FINAL SILENCE by STUART NEVILLE (2014, Vintage, 336pp) ∗∗∗∗
Blurb: Rea Carlisle has inherited a house from an uncle she never knew. It doesn’t take her long to clear out the dead man’s remaining possessions, but one room remains stubbornly locked. When Rea finally forces it open she discovers inside a chair, a table – and a leather-bound book. Inside its pages are locks of hair, fingernails: a catalogue of victims.
Horrified, Rea wants to go straight to the police but when her family intervene, fearing the damage it could cause to her father’s political career, Rea turns to the only person she can think of: DI Jack Lennon. But Lennon is facing his own problems. Suspended from the force and hounded by DCI Serena Flanagan, the toughest cop he’s ever faced, Lennon must unlock the secrets of a dead man’s terrifying journal.
This is the fourth of Stuart Neville’s crime thrillers featuring Belfast Detective Inspector Jack Lennon. We catch up with Lennon some time after the events of the excellent STOLEN SOULS (2013) recovering from post-traumatic stress having been shot in the previous book. He is on leave from the force and on the verge of splitting with his partner, Susan, who looks after their daughters from other relationships. It is against this domestic backdrop that Lennon links up with his ex-girlfriend, Rea, who has discovered her uncle, who had recently committed suicide, was keeping a dark secret. When Rea discovers the book she had found documenting a number of murders has gone missing leaving her nothing to show Lennon, the detective declines to help. When later Rea is murdered, Lennon is implicated as the prime suspect.
What follows is a familiar but expertly written variant on the fugitive trying the clear his name story. We are introduced to DCI Serena Flanagan (who will feature in her own series later), tasked with tracking down Lennon, who is on the run trying to clear his name. Flanagan also has problems of her own having been diagnosed with breast cancer and struggling to come to terms with her mortality. We also discover Rea’s father is a politician with his own secrets to protect. Neville expertly weaves themes of domestic violence, terrorist activity, political ambition and the psyche of a serial killer into his novel. His writing style is visual but concise with short sharp chapters many ending with a hook to take the reader to the next. As such it is the very definition of the page-turner.
Lennon has degenerated into an thoughtless and dislikeable individual by this book, yet the reader sticks with him as he tries to prove his innocence. There are questions from previous books still left unanswered at the conclusion, signifying Neville is not yet done with his characters. Flanagan is the career professional who likes to get things done by the book, but we also see her compassionate side through her consoling of Rea’s mother in both the death of her daughter and the abuse she has taken from her husband.
Overall, this book is a great read, that whilst written in a concise and efficient manner still manages to create three-dimensional characters. Whilst the subject matter is familiar there are enough twists in the story for it to remain an exciting thriller.