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the final silence

23 april 2020

Jack Lennon, co-protagonist of Stuart Neville's crime novel The Final Silence, shares traits with other burnt-out detective inspectors like Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch and Jussi Adler-Olsen's Carl Mørck. Years of shady dealings, misunderstood chivalry, impulsive decisions, and general antisocial behavior have left Lennon with no badge and no gun, and in fact have left him as Suspect No. 1 in a spectacular murder case, forcing him off of the grid and onto the run.

Serena Flanagan is our other protagonist. With secrets of her own, but a far more buttoned-down profile, Flanagan is the detective who has fingered Lennon as her prime suspect, and now must race against time, circumstance, and her own instincts to tackle the killer before he kills again. (Whether the killer is Lennon or somebody else, and you get no spoilers out of me.)

Lennon and Flanagan have backstories that, coming to the loose series of novels they inhabit in media res, I am not aware of; but Neville does a good job in tersely filling us in.

There are several really strong, original elements to The Final Silence. One is simply the setting: Belfast, the present day (that is, 2014, well after the Good Friday agreement, well before Brexit or COVID-19). There are several detective series set in the Republic of Ireland, but this is the first I've read from the North. The local color is absorbing without becoming textbooky; we get both specific realism and universal emotion.

Another strength is Neville's plotting. Not to give away too much, but The Final Silence is a serial-killer story, and it starts with a serial killer himself dying: not a suicide exactly, more like a deliberate death from self-neglect. This really isn't a spoiler, because the killer is dead within six pages, and the back cover of the book explains much more than I just did.

The novel delivers deft blows and counter-punches to even the most experienced reader's sense of inevitability. When you've read a couple hundred similar novels, you may feel that no writer can put you off balance, but Neville genuinely succeeds.

Neville, Stuart. The Final Silence. New York: Soho, 2014. PR 6114 .E943F56