Review: The Twelve by Stuart Neville

Monday 19 January 2015
Title: The Twelve (Jack Lennon, #1)
Author: Stuart Neville
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: 24th June 2010 (Paperback)
Source: Purchased
Pages: 480
ISBN: 9780099535348
Rating: 4.5/5
Purchase: Amazon
The Twelve is a magnificent debut thriller. One of the best first novels in years.

Sooner or later, everybody pays - and the dead will set the price...

Gerry Fegan, a former paramilitary contract killer, is haunted by the ghosts of the 12 people he has slaughtered. Every night he drowns their screams in drink, on the point of losing his mind. Then one of the ghosts offers Fegan a solution: kill those who engineered their deaths.

From the greedy politicians to the corrupt security forces, the street thugs to the complacent bystanders who let it happen, all must pay the price. But when Fegan's vendetta threatens to derail Northern Ireland's peace process and destabilise its fledgling government, old comrades and enemies alike want him gone. The secrets of a dirty war should stay buried: even if its ghosts do not. 

So my first book read for #IrishFictionFortnight and what a book to pick. I don't really feel qualified enough to comment on the subject matter, given that I don't know all that much about The Troubles, one person that does however is Stuart Neville and he has used that knowledge to create a truly authentic story, one that I feel like I have lived alongside our main character, and one that will probably stick in my mind for a long time. This is maybe the third or fourth book I've read with a story build around The Troubles, and I am constantly learning with each book that I read. What can at times be difficult reading is also very much important reading.

In the book we are introduced to the character of Gerard Fegan in what is supposedly peacetime Northern Ireland but which over the course of the book comes across as anything but. Fegan is seeing the ghosts of the people he killed when he was an IRA killer - a mother and baby, a schoolboy, a butcher, an RUC constable and seven other of his victims. These ghosts are telling him to kill the men that gave Fegan the orders to kill them and only when he starts doing that do the ghosts start to disappear. It's never quite clear but this isn't a paranormal story, but rather Fegan has been left with severe psychological problems as well as a drinking problem. Fegan is portrayed as somewhat of a remorseful man, somebody who wants peace but then brings the opposite to Northern Ireland when he begins killing again.

The first man he kills, Michael McKenna is very well known across Northern Ireland, his death obviously causing major ructions as his colleagues in the government, the police and some quite unsavoury characters in the background all demand to know the person responsible for his death. There's the obvious question of right and wrong here and that's the dilemma I had whilst reading the book. Had this been a generic crime thriller, where the bad guys are picked off (albeit by a bad guy himself) one by one, I would probably cheer the main character on, but with the basis for this story being factual, and the story itself feeling all too real at times I did wonder just what kind of justice was right, more brutal deaths might not have been it. Fegan takes the reader on a journey into the past, and we learn how each of the characters haunting him in the present day were killed before seeing Fegan then kill the men responsible. There's also the fact that Fegan himself is responsible for the deaths of those haunting him, yes he was hired but he still made the decisions to kill.

The violence in the book might make some readers uncomfortable, but I found it absolutely compelling stuff and totally fitting to the story. This is one of those books where not a single character can be trusted, and that makes it a very tense and unpredictable read, we have an idea of how the story will progress but it was very much a case of anything goes, and I was unsure of how things would ultimately end for Fegan, or indeed how I wanted them to. There are a lot of characters in the book, not hard to keep track of once introduced but I won't list them all here and I am trying to be as vague as possible for fear of giving anything away, further than what the blurb itself tells us. It's an extremely thought-provoking book and one that would have many a book club debating away for hours on end, and rightly so. Having spent a little time on Google, reading articles about The Troubles, some of the events in this book and its characters echo real events and characters which makes it all the more haunting. It's been said a thousand times before, but it's hard to believe at times this is the work of a debut author, and after that conclusion I simply cannot wait to read the sequel.



  1. What a great review!!! Sounds like Stuart has a new fan :)

  2. Another one I need to look out for, there are not enough hours in the day! Thanks for taking the time to give your thoughts always appreciated


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