Soho Press, $26.95, 325 pages, ISBN 978-1-61695-739-1
An often explored mystery theme that never seems to get old, is the question of suicide or murder. What better way to get away with it than staging the death scene and making it look like the decedent took his or her own life? Do it artfully enough to foil detection, write up a goodbye note for the victim, wait a few days for the Medical Examiner’s confirmation, and bingo! The fortune is yours. Collect the insurance money and live happily ever after . . . preferably some place warm . . . where there’s excellent amenities and entertainments. It’s a plot that mystery writers the world over have used and abused for as long as the genre has been around. But—and it’s a really big but—just like the crime itself, it takes a helluva good wordsmith to pull it off. This week’s Mysterious Book Report is just such a one. It’s the work of a young and highly regarded Irish talent named Stuart Neville, who lives and works in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
So Say The Fallen, features Detective Chief Inspector Serena Flanagan of the Belfast Police Department, a serial character who’s not only a breast cancer survivor, but also a hard-nosed cop dealing with marital problems. She’s respected, but often at odds with her fellow detectives because of her unorthodox methods, abrasive personality and disregard for authority.
The novel begins with the untimely death of a man named Henry Garrick. He was a dealer of expensive classic automobiles who was horribly burned, disfigured and maimed in a car wreck five months earlier. Legless and an invalid, he was in constant pain before apparently taking his own life with an overdose of morphine, leaving his much younger and beautiful wife a widow. A wealthy, grieving, unstable widow who has her faith in God and the support of Peter McKay to help her through the tragedy. He’s the pastor of her church, as well as a close family friend and confidant of the late and much lamented Henry. As is the law in Northern Ireland, all suicides must be investigated, then certified, by a medical examiner and a police officer ranked sergeant or above. DCI Serena Flanagan is assigned the duty. At first, everything seems cut-and-dried, but somehow, the facts don’t quite add up. Then, the tiniest of clues raises her gut instincts, causing Serena to have doubts about Henry’s manner of death. In the face of mounting pressure, she refuses to sign-off on the apparent suicide. At the same time, her troubles at home are mounting, casting doubt on her ability to do an effective job of unraveling the mystery and answering the increasingly difficult question . . . Was it suicide or was it murder? The answer can only be found by reading this complex, twisted and elegant novel that plumbs the depths of the human soul. Stuart Neville has once again proven he is a master of noir and one of the most electrifying voices working in crime fiction today.