those we left behind

As soon as I read Dennis Lehane’s praise for Stuart Neville’s books, I wanted to read this one. I figured, if Dennis Lehane can’t wait for Neville’s next book to come out, that sounds like something I’d like.

Holy crap, this is dark, powerful stuff. It reminded me of the video store that used to be in our town: the guy who worked there would recommend the MOST depressing films…my husband called them “all those Irish films” because they all seemed to be set in some gritty, grey part of Belfast during one or another period of “the troubles.”

And maybe it is partly because I am a former foster mother who really really feels sadness for both the people who work in and for the system as well as for the kids. The joy of someone making it out of the cycle of poverty, abuse, etc. is awesome, but all too rare, I’m afraid.

Here is the story told in this incredibly well-done thriller: In 2007, a pair of brothers, Thomas and Ciaran Devine, aged fourteen and twelve respectively, are found with the battered and bloody corpse of their foster father. Serena Flanagan is the young cop on the case, and she struggles to try to discern which of the boys killed their “father,” and why. The younger, Ciaran, confesses, but Serena has her doubts.

Seven years go by, and when Serena returns to duty after having treatment for breast cancer, she learns she has the Devine brothers’ case again, when the son of the foster father is killed following the release of the younger brother.

The victim, Daniel Rolston, has been obsessed with making Thomas and Ciaran pay for their senseless crime against his biological father, which he believed destroyed his and his mother’s lives.

The two siblings are completely incapable of empathy, and both are so thoroughly damaged that they are “doomed to exist on the fringes of society.”

Serena is now a forty-five year old Detective Chief Inspector, and she works with Paula Cunningham, Ciaran’s parole officer and a clinical psychologist, to try to help Ciaran. However, it seems it may not only be impossible, but also dangerous for both of them.

In the book, Neville goes back and forth from 2007 to the present day, and it got a bit confusing for me when the tense would switch when events were related from Ciaran’s perspective. Both Serena and Paula fight their own demons in their personal lives, and adding in their emotional entanglements as they try to help Ciaran just seems increasingly ominous as the story develops.
Daniel (the son of the original murder victim), Serena, and Paula all seem to want to do the right thing, but all of them let their emotions rule their actions. As events unfold, no one in the story appears to be able to accept the hand that he or she is dealt.

There isn’t any comic relief in this book, there is no friendly camaraderie among fellow officers, and really there was no hope that I could find in this tale.

I personally found this to be a bit darker I like (actually a whole lot darker), but the writing is terrific, and the atmosphere permeates everything. It is bleak, gritty, realistic, and sadly reflective of a segment of society that is often ignored – the “throwaways” among the foster kids.

I appreciate the opportunity to review this (thanks to NetGalley) and despite it not being my own personal favorite, for the storytelling and skillful way the plot develops, I give it 5 stars. (We all know people who love to read this kind of stuff – I predict my husband will not only read it, but then will look for other titles by Neville).

I still don’t know how to pronounce Ciaran…