The first thing that has to be said about Stuart Neville’s latest thriller The Final Silence is that if sleep wasn’t essential, I would have gladly stayed up all night to read this novel in one sitting. There was not one moment that I wasn’t completely hooked on this faced-paced, intelligent and extremely riveting story of human drama played out against the stark backdrop of a Northern Ireland ensconced in an intense and bloody past.
In The Final Silence Neville re-introduces Detective Inspector Jack Lennon, a character from three of his earlier novels, who is battling supressed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, an addiction to painkillers, and his suspension from the police force for the shooting of another – corrupt – police officer. The last thing Lennon needs is a phone call from ex-girlfriend Rea Flanagan, who seems beside herself after finding a grisly book cataloguing a range of violent murders in the remaining possessions of her recently deceased uncle. When another shocking murder occurs, Lennon suddenly finds himself inextricably connected to what is becoming a large scale man-hunt, headed by tough, no-nonsense DCI Serena Flanagan.
The various twists and turns of the plotline come at the reader mostly unexpectedly, while the foreshadowing of events – the dark suspense of the inevitable horror – lurks uncomfortably beneath every paragraph. Most of the characters are trying to hide something from the world, and find escape ultimately impossible.
Northern Irish author Stuart Neville has been called an “exceptional talent” by colleagues like Lee Child, and for good reason – Neville is one of the rare thriller writers who manages to assemble his many characters and different plotlines perfectly into one seamless narrative. The backstories and temperamental nuances of the various characters that own the narrative – whether they are major or minor characters, whether they are the cops or the criminals, victims or perpetrators – at every point contribute to the rich tapestry of humanity that is being presented throughout the novel. Alongside the violence and brutal murder that forms the backbone of the plotline we encounter characters who struggle with a range of personal demons and misfortunes – some self-inflicted, others cruelly imposed – and whose journeys take the reader alongside them to hell and back.
The city of Belfast seems to act like a character in itself in this novel– although the story takes place many years after the cease-fire, Belfast is depicted as a place where history is still played out at every level of society, where the idea of peace is shattered by the reality that the political, religious, institutional and cultural factions are still entrenched, and where little is forgotten about the past.
The Final Silence is not just a novel that ticks all the boxes in regards to being a great thriller, it ticks all the boxes in regards to delivering a narrative that digs deep into the multiple layers of society, and the multiple layers of what makes people act the way they do. There are no two-dimensional depictions in this novel and there are no easy answers to the issues that are dealt with. Any triumphs that are experienced by the characters are bitter-sweet, but yet, The Final Silence is a novel that smoulders a small spark of hope throughout the narrative, and it is that, which lingers with the reader long after the book has finished.