Review: Those We Left Behind by Stuart Neville

Thursday 25 June 2015
Title: Those We Left Behind
Author: Stuart Neville
Publisher: Harvill Secker
Publication Date: 25th June 2015
Pages: 368
ISBN: 9781846556968
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 5/5
Purchase: Amazon
When 12-year-old Ciaran Devine confessed to murdering his foster father it sent shock waves through the nation.

DCI Serena Flanagan, then an ambitious Detective Sergeant, took Ciaran's confession after days spent earning his trust. He hasn’t forgotten the kindness she showed him – in fact, she hasn't left his thoughts in the seven years he’s been locked away.

Probation officer Paula Cunningham, now tasked with helping Ciaran re-enter society, suspects there was more to this case than the police uncovered. Ciaran’s confession saved his brother Thomas from a far lengthier sentence, and Cunningham can see the unnatural hold Thomas still has over his vulnerable younger brother.

When she brings her fears to DCI Flanagan, the years of lies begin to unravel, setting a deadly chain of events in motion.

Those We Left Behind gives the previously introduced character DCI Serena Flanagan her own series, and it is going to be one of those 'must read series' if this first installment is anything to go by. Stuart Neville is a very exciting author, one that continues to mix things up with each story that he writes. This time around we have a gripping psychological tale, a real 'character study' that had me glued to my Kindle as I read. It shows the effect crime has on the people that carry it out, the people that investigate it, and the people who are victims of it and shows that it never ends simply with the individual being locked up.

DCI Serena Flanagan is contacted by probation officer Paula Cunningham who expresses fears about an individual who is about to be released back into society. 19-year-old Ciaran Devine who was imprisoned seven years ago for the murder of his foster father. Paula believes there is more to the case than what the police first uncovered, and it's clear to both Paula and Serena that Ciaran's older brother Thomas, still has a very unnatural hold over Ciaran. Serena was a DS at the time of the case, probably one of the worst she has worked on, and she was the officer responsible for getting that all-important confession from Ciaran. But her work gaining his trust left a deep impression in his mind, and Ciaran has spent the last seven years developing somewhat of an obsession with Serena. Very soon years of lies begin to unravel, and a deadly chain of events is set in motion.

Ciaran Devine is a thought-provoking character, in the beginning I was never sure how I was meant to view him. He came across at times almost still that child that went to prison, trapped inside a man's body. It was only as the novel progressed that I developed doubts as to just how developed his mind was, and just what he might be capable of. His brother Thomas does have an unnatural hold over him, and we witness just how strong this is as the story progresses, interweaving the past with the present quite seamlessly, creating real mystery and tension. You can really believe in both of these characters, which is quite frightening because they are easy to imagine as real people. It is of course difficult to discuss their journeys in any great detail, just to say that the last third of the book? Probably some of the best and most gripping scenes I have read in the genre this year. The scenes between both of them are some of the best in the story. You know some kind of terror is coming, that things will not end well either for one of the brothers or both of them, and I couldn't read quick enough to find out just how things would end.

Serena Flanagan is a great character. I do have a bit of a soft spot for female detectives. She is one of those detectives that is willing to go against her superiors and the dreaded rule book, even at times putting her own life in danger in her quest for answers and to then ultimately achieve justice. She is a character that I very quickly became invested in, and one that I really cared about as the novel progressed. It was probably the knowledge that this is the first in a series that made me relax more at some of the more life threatening scenes. I can't wait to read about her again.

Those We Left Behind is one of those stories where you become completely involved in and consumed by what you are reading, almost like you are witnessing all of the events from afar. It is an incredibly suspenseful read, and completely compelling throughout. The atmosphere created by Stuart Neville is just amazing and as he is somebody who clearly knows the areas he is writing about, he uses that to full effect to create some quite vivid scenes. I could almost feel the chill as I read (it was a freezing cold June(!) night in Liverpool as I read, but still). The setting also stands out because it's so different from the settings I usually read about, but it all makes for the perfect backdrop for the scenes that unfold in the story, particularly towards the end.

Those We Left Behind is one of the best crime novels I have read this year, with a believable story that I think will leave a lasting impression on everybody that reads it. Stuart Neville is definitely one of crime fiction's rising stars and those who are yet to pick up one of his books should certainly do so right now, perhaps starting with Those We Left Behind.


1 comment:

  1. Particularly brilliant review, Shaun, this time - can't wait to get stuck into this book! I can't get over how quickly you read (and review!) - I wish I was as fast as you! You must get through not far off a book a day! I'm actually a fairly slow reader, probably because I'm busy hunting for clues to see whodunit! Btw, any chance of you making it up to Bloody Scotland? I know it's a trek, but it'd be great to meet you in person - I reckon we'd have a great time!


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