“The Ghosts of Belfast” by Stuart Neville

A very solid entry in what I’ll call the “hitman’s redemption” genre. Peace has come to Northern Ireland, but it’s a fragile peace, with all the same old players with all the same old dirty hands. Former hitman Gerry Fegan is out of prison but is haunted by the ghosts of the people he killed, who are demanding that he take out the people who ordered the killings. Gerry starts obeying the voices in his head and going after the mobsters/terrorists/touts-turned-politicians in order to bring them to justice and, as the book progresses, to protect a woman and her daughter who have been targeted for harassment and retribution.

The premise–broken-down old hitman who finds humanity and mercy by protecting a woman and child–is standard for the genre (in fact, it’s pretty much mandatory), but it is handled skillfully, and the last third of the book is so explosively tense I couldn’t put it down till I finished. The fact that everyone’s actions are not just personal vendettas but have political ramifications raises the stakes and makes the reader care about the fates of Gerry’s victims, who are unpleasant people but are also holding the shaky peace together. This is a dark and gritty work, so readers looking for escapist literature would be best served to look elsewhere, but readers looking for a hardboiled political thriller should find a lot to admire here.

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