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57 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stuart Neville's novel is touched with brilliance
I'm a big fan of the thriller genre but approached this book with some trepidation. I hail from Northern Ireland and my entire childhood was dominated by 'The Troubles'. Most 'Troubles' fiction that I have read has made me cringe and I've never greatly bought into the whole concept of the supernatural - so, on the face of it, The Ghosts of Belfast (sold as The Twelve in...
Published on 17 Nov. 2009 by Malcolm N. Jones

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Idea Extremely Well Written but So Bleak
I really feel a churl giving this only three stars. The idea behind the story is extremely clever and very well carried through. It is is extremely well written. I only wish I liked it more.

My problem with it is that there is nothing to alleviate the darkness of the story and where it travels. To begin with, I was intrigued. As I read through the first...
Published on 22 Jun. 2011 by Roger Rebec


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57 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stuart Neville's novel is touched with brilliance, 17 Nov. 2009
By 
Malcolm N. Jones (Europe) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ghosts of Belfast (Hardcover)
I'm a big fan of the thriller genre but approached this book with some trepidation. I hail from Northern Ireland and my entire childhood was dominated by 'The Troubles'. Most 'Troubles' fiction that I have read has made me cringe and I've never greatly bought into the whole concept of the supernatural - so, on the face of it, The Ghosts of Belfast (sold as The Twelve in the UK) should have been a resounding no-no. The reality turned out to be completely the opposite. Once I started this book, I could not put it down and since finishing it, I have not been able to stop thinking about it. Three things about it keep striking me - the normally untold truths of Northern Ireland politics were conveyed so well; I can not recall a work of fiction that has manifest difficult truths so clearly and so compellingly. The supernatural element of the novel was seamless - partly because the story gave the reader reasons to believe the protagonist (a former IRA killer) was experiencing psychosis but also because the portrayal of the ghosts was so simple (and therefore effective), their desires so understandable and ultimately because of the reader's desire for the protagonist to try and redeem himself through revenge (revenge mediated and directed by the ghosts). Finally, the quality of the writing was stunning. Stuart Neville has not only written an utterly gripping story, he has written it with beautiful craftsmanship. This is the best novel I have read in a long, long time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars balances excellent characterization with a deep appreciation of the politics, landscape and legacy of The Troubles, 12 Aug. 2012
By 
Rob Kitchin - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Twelve (Paperback)
The Twelve has attracted a lot of praise for its gritty portrayal of post-conflict Northern Ireland. And the praise is well merited. The writing is taught and economical, with each chapter crafted like a toned short story and the pages just kept turning. Neville balances excellent characterization with a deep appreciation of the politics, landscape and legacy of The Troubles; how the past casts a shadow of violence and distrust that the light of democratic politics can never fully erase; how while some people and places seemingly mutate in the name of progress their real nature and the scars of personal experience are never far beneath the surface. This is helped by using real places and some of the characters and scenes echoing real life people and events. For example, Bull O'Kane is clearly a thinly veiled Slab Murphy; the riot near the start of the book is still a semi-regular occurrence often reported on the news. Despite his regrets, his inner torture, and his obvious fondness of Marie and Ellen and his desire to protect them from an unforgiving community, Fegan is an anti-hero that is difficult to have sympathy for given his murderous life. That said, his history and character are wholly believable, as is the plot, with its politician gangsters, corrupt security services, and scheming civil servants seeking to create a status quo that enables all of them to maintain their own power and covert operations. Indeed, Neville does a good job of exploring what happens after a war has all but ended, and the ongoing legacy of lies and double deals, the fear of past wrongs being exposed, and the desire to move to a new order whilst maintaining the old hegemony. Of course, Neville is not the only novelist to portray Northern Ireland in the peace and reconciliation period, and other excellent examples include Divorcing Jack by Colin Batemen, Eureka Street by Robert McLiam Wilson, and Resurrection Man by Eoin McNamee. The Twelve is a strong addition to that set, covering the situation in the post-Good Friday Agreement/post-Omagh period and into the era of the Northern Ireland Assembly and power-sharing. It is a must read for anybody who wants to understand the complexities of maintaining peace in a post-conflict society.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ghosts of Belfast Past, 15 Aug. 2009
By 
O E J - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Twelve (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I enjoyed this immensely, it's likely to be in my best three reads of 2009. Two of my favourite authors, James Ellroy and John Connolly, give it a hearty plug on the front cover and they're not wrong in saying that it's "One of the finest thriller debuts of the last ten years". And Ellroy is, I would guess, one of the few writers who actually writes such accolades personally after reading the book cover to cover - so when HE says it's "The best novel I've read in years", I take notice.

I am old enough to remember "The troubles" in Northern Ireland from the very beginning, almost exactly 40 years ago. I have never been there but for anyone of my generation I think it's fair to say that our experience of it is bound to have influenced or even shaped our lives to one degree or another. The Twelve is a work of fiction but with deep roots in the realities of the sufferings on all sides before, during and what we can currently describe as after the troubles. The author Stuart Neville knows his stuff absolutely, or at least that is the impression he left with me. Yet in spite of that knowledge, I couldn't say with certainty from which side of the sectarian divide he originates, because as an observation of the atrocities it comes over as relatively balanced and objective.

I would never have expected to read a book about a Republican assassin and find myself rooting for him, but that is exactly what happened. In a story devoid of heroes in the traditional sense, we have a diverse crew of characters ranging from Westminster politicians to Belfast street thugs and a variety of killers in between such that there are no truly good people anywhere to be seen, priests included. Essentially the story is about one man's self-proclaimed mission to exorcise the ghosts of his own horrific past; a man who has known almost nothing other than murder and solitude all of his adult life. But now, in a very different and peaceful Northern Ireland, he is haunted by images of those whose lives he took away during the worst of times and sets about reconciling himself in the only way he knows.

Although it is a work of fiction, the background to the story is utterly real and the more frightening and depressing because of it. It is a peep into the minds and souls of people who killed for a cause that no longer exists, and an observation of how pointless it was. More than 3500 people died in The Troubles, and although this novel could hardly be described as its legacy, it is nevertheless a fascinating, moving and riveting read into the then and now of Northern Ireland, of the hypocrisies behind the peace process and the motives - mainly financial and political - behind all those who seek to maintain it. Corruption bleeds through the cracks at every level and it is easy to assume that this is a depiction of how things really are at both Westminster and Stormont, while the younger generation of 21st Century Belfast with their new cars and their well-paid jobs have next to no idea of the horrors of what went before them that made all this possible. It is almost as enjoyable as a documentary as a fictional tale, but the tale is too good with so many well-drawn characters that it is easy to immerse oneself in it and easy to become emotionally drawn into it too. It was a story that I felt would be difficult to find a satisfactory conclusion to, thankfully the author didn't take the obvious option and managed to find a way out of the puzzle he had created. The only problem with the ending was the simple fact that it was the end, because I could have read a lot more of it.

There's more to come from Stuart Neville in the shape of The Ghosts of Belfast in October 2009, but thanks to his kind comment below I now know that it is in fact the same story as THE TWELVE with a different title, for the US market.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gritty Reading!, 15 Sept. 2010
By 
J. M. Green "john94682" (Sutton Coldfield) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Twelve (Paperback)
The combination of a ghost story intertwined with the Troubles of Ireland makes for an interesting, if gritty, read!
Certainly, the main character, a former hitman, is portrayed as an individual trying to purge his soul and forget, but the 12 ghosts of former murder victims hound him to ever more desperate measures so that they themselves can be at peace.
At first, his former associates cannot believe that it is the "retired" hitman becoming a killer once more, but as the killings get closer to the top, they have to try remove this former employee, but find that that is no easy task as he was indeed, one of their best!
A bare and desolate story told with great aplomb, will hold the attention of readers from all backgrounds.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fistful of Cliches, 11 Aug. 2009
By 
Huck Flynn "huckleberry" (northern ireland) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Twelve (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As someone who lived through "The Troubles" (although thankfully unscarred) the background and setting for The Twelve is certainly familiar and feels authentic enough. It's a gripping and fast paced thriller full of memorable caricatures - some amusingly familiar. Gerry Fegan, the guilt ridden IRA killer in search of revenge/redemption for the twelve victims who died at his hands on the orders of evil men who have profited from the conflict. The reader has sympathy for Fegan for several reasons - he seems genuinely remorseful; he is portrayed quite well as a victim of his own background; and he never tries to justify his actions. Other characters are less sympathetically painted - McKenna, McGinty, Toner, Coulter, O'Kane, Hargreaves, Pilkington but it is their one dimensional portrayal that is a weakness in the book. Neville's North is unremittingly cynical - dirty politics, collusion, betrayal, godlessness and corruption. There is no room for idealism, every motive is twisted and venal - a common cynical point of view these days but perhaps a bit convenient (or am i being naive?) in maintaining a suspenseful, unsettling and frankly depressing atmosphere. Campbell, the mole/double agent is slightly more complex (or confused) but he is included as a cipher and not fully drawn. In the end the book reminds me very much of a Clint Eastwood movie as Fegan exacts his bloody revenge on a queue of unsavoury characters - partly justified by protecting (the symbolic) mother and daughter Marie and Ellen. Marie McKenna provides a brief opportunity for some love interest but I don't think the reader ever really gets close enough to care what happens to her. That said it's a rollercoaster read via riots, bombs, sectarian murders, illegal dog fights, The Maze prison, diesel "laundering" plants, cemetery speeches, racketeering, Ulster politics and some nice scenery, to a convenient and melodramatic ending. I smell a TV/film spin off with James Nesbitt. 3 and a half stars for the writing and an extra half star for the setting, but then I'm bigoted!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unusual perspective which works, 22 Oct. 2009
By 
Dr. Paul Ell (NI, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Twelve (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It's not revealing much of the plot of this contemporary Northern Ireland thriller that 'The Twelve' are 12 victims murdered by Fegan an IRA operative during the period before the 1998 agreements. The unusual take is that Fegan is followed by the shadows - or maybe ghosts - of the 12. The book hints at earlier mental illness of the lead character and these visions appear, until close to the end of the novel, to be products of these mental-health imaginings. In order to rid himself of the 12 Fegan assassinates protagonists involved in their murder.

This seems an unlikely formula to base a novel on - and after reading the first chapter or two I found the shadow scenario unbelievable and was struggling with the story. However, as the character develops, and the characters around him develop - in part made possible by revenge for the 12 occurring rather less quickly - the book really begins to work. I found the second half compelling and the conclusion worthwhile.

The author certainly knows Belfast well and the Northern Irish backdrops largely ring true. The are one of two errors though - travelling from Dundalk to Belfast via Armagh, for example, and descriptions of a rather more developed motorway network than exists. The semi-alternative reality of the Peace Process - or perhaps the actual reality - is spot on.

This is a good novel and thriller. Go with the improbable start and it's worth the effort.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark compelling Irish drama, 18 Feb. 2010
This review is from: The Twelve (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Twelve is a dark, disturbing and deeply compelling look into the mind of a driven man, driven by ghosts from the past: the people who were his victims as an IRA assassin haunt his every waking moment and begin to force his actions and his thinking. Gerry Fagan now lives in a different world, one where the Troubles are supposedly a thing of the past, and his former "employers" are businessmen and politicians, trying to pretend they had no involvement in the bloody struggles that are only just coming to an end.

Part psychological thriller, part love story, part history book this is a vivid read that doesn't require much background knowledge of events. There's graphic violence and yet a sense of justice and honesty as Fagan tries to set things right.

Gripping til the very last page, a must-read debut.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, Simple as that:), 7 Aug. 2014
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This review is from: The Twelve (Kindle Edition)
I recently read another book from another author and it was so good I wanted to write a review singing it's praises while I was still half way through it. I didn't though, and it was for the best as that particular book petered out in the second half and became a chore to read by the end.

You don't need any further details from me regarding what this book's storyline is, so I'll just have my say about this book in general.

The Twelve was brilliant from the start and I wanted to immediately yell out a review about this too, but given what I learned from the previous book I held off until the end.
I have finished it now and wanted to crack on with the review for it straight away, instead I first went straight onto Amazon and purchased every single book I could find by Stuart Neville.

In the same way as Mozart knew how to throw a tune together, Picasso knew how to splash a bit of paint about and Mike Tyson knows how to give someone a good slap, Stuart Neville knows how to tell a story.

The story, was excellent, made sense, well located and there was not one single "ah lads" moment (as we say in Ireland when we find a hole in a story)
The pacing was the most perfect I have ever seen in a book. Not once did I think "Get on with it". The characters were realistic and interesting, not once did I return to a characters point of view that made me think "Not this gobs***e again"

I dislike the beach and sandy things so I have never found a film or a story set in the desert in any way interesting, no matter how promising the storyline may have been.
There is something about Northern Ireland given its past that has alway seemed very unappealing to me, grimy, mean spirited and whingy, and because of that I didn't think I'd like a story set up there.
Well Mr. Neville has bitch slapped that foolish notion clean out of me, and I am delighted that he did.

If your looking for a good story that will keep you captivated, realistic action, legitimate intrigue plot points, well written and well paced...then this ticks all the boxes. Do yourself a favour get it, read it, enjoy it, spread the word about it. Good writers are too hard to come by these days (IMO) and the more well deserved support the likes of Stuart Neville gets, the more, I'm sure he'll keep writing for us.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An absolutely first class thriller, 9 Sept. 2013
By 
Ben Kane (Nr Bristol, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Twelve (Kindle Edition)
I heard of this book back in 2009, when it received rave reviews. Like so many books that I want to read, I didn't get around to buying it at the time. Last week, I happened on Neville's latest book, Ratlines and bought it on impulse. Readers may know that it's about 1963 Ireland, Nazis, murder, deceit, and a certain Charles J. Haughey. I read it in 2-3 days, which is good going for me nowadays, and I loved it. In fact, I thought it was so good that I'd already bought this book before I'd finished it.

I suppose that it's natural for a novel like The Twelve to appeal to me. I grew up in Ireland in the 1980s, so the subject matter of 'the Troubles' and those who were involved in it forms a large part of my memories of the news at the time - and I mean close to home as well as in the North. However, this book is so damn good that that doesn't matter. Anyone who enjoys thrillers or crime writing will love this. From the first page, Neville paints a grimy, vivid and unrelentingly gripping picture of Northern Ireland and the scarred individuals who've been left behind by the 1998 Good Friday agreement. We live in the head of Gerry Fegan, the haunted main character, and are tortured and horrified by the terrible things he did. However, the piece de resistance of The Twelve is the creation of the *mild spoiler* dozen ghosts of those Fegan killed. They are an act of pure genius. There's no need to go into the plot further, as so many other reviewers have done a fine job. Suffice it to say that this is crime/thriller writing at its finest. Stuart Neville, step back and take a bow - I was blown away by this book.

Five 24 carat gold stars - if that doesn't help you buy this novel, it should!

Ben Kane, author of the Spartacus and Hannibal series.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A future fictional classic of The Troubles...., 19 Nov. 2012
By 
janebbooks (Jacksonville, FL USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ghosts of Belfast (Hardcover)
A Guardian newspaper reviewer calls Stuart Neville's THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST the best fictionalized representation of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, a future classic of its time. Amazon reviewers relate the plot of the novel: An IRA killer, one Gerry Fegan, is released after twelve years in Maze Prison following the Good Friday Belfast Agreement of 1998. Fegan is haunted, day and night, by ghosts of his twelve victims, who silently lead him to the people who ordered their execution. Five soldiers, a policeman, two Loyalists and four civilians--including a baby in a mother's arms. One by one, and often two or three, Fegan submits to their demands with acts of revenge and other killings and the specters disappear.

Although Neville skillfully deals with the political reality and cynicism in the new Northern Ireland by boldly exposing post-ceasefire Belfast as a confused and contradictory place, he gives his readers a profoundly sad protagonist. Fegan recalls the last time he held his father's hands "the coarse and bony feel of them, the hardness and the warmth, long fingers stained orange by nicotine." He was nine years old and it was the day of his father's funeral. And he relates other boyhood scars:

"He remembered the raids, the cops and the Brits breaking down doors. They pulled young men out of their beds to imprison them without trial at Long Kesh, the old RAF base that would later become the Maze, or on the prison ship at Belfast Docks. He remembered the anger, the hate, the poverty and the unemployment. The only way to have anything, to be anything, was to fight. Get the Brits out...take freedom at gunpoint." (83)

Thirty-six years later another younger, perhaps wiser man explains to Fegan that times have changed.

"...people won't tolerate violence like they used to. Then 9/11 came along. The Americans don't look at armed struggle the same way. Used to be we could sell them the romance of it, call ourselves freedom fighters, and they loved it. The money just rolled in, all those Irish-American digging in their pockets for the old country. They don't buy it anymore. We've got peace now whether we like it or not." (97)

Is Gerry Fegan a terrorist, a killer, plain and simple? Or is he a freedom fighter with a guilty conscience? Read every word of this intense and violent story.
These are Neville's questions without an answer.

Other recommended reading: Harry's Game by Gerald Seymour. A cat-and-mouse chase in 1970's Belfast.
The first half of On The Brinks: The Extended Edition by Sam Millar. A memoir of his eight years in Maze prison in Belfast.
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The Twelve
The Twelve by Stuart Neville (Paperback - 24 Jun. 2010)
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