Those We Left Behind – Stuart Neville


A long time ago, a twelve year old boy (Ciaran, one of two brothers) was convicted of the savage murder of his foster father. As this book opens, Ciaran is about to be released from prison, where his brother Thomas (released earlier after his shorter sentence for involvement in the killing) and concerned probation officer, Paula Cunningham, await. Our heroine, DCI Serena Flanagan, who secured Ciaran’s confession ten years ago, is nervous about the release, but can do nothing to stop it. She has her suspicions about the role of Thomas, and is fearful about the consequences of both brothers being at liberty. Meanwhile, the natural born son of the slain father, is about to have his relative peace shattered.

From this point the story develops in a fairly predictable manner. I will avoid any spoilers, but will say that despite the lack of any significant surprises, this is a thoughtful, well written, psychological crime drama, with good observations built into a set of believable characters. The two brothers and Flanagan are well done, and somewhat hog the scenes. Flanagan, having recently recovered from breast cancer surgery, gets involved in another case about one of her fellow suffers from a support group. The case shows Flanagan’s impulsive side, and does not endear her to her colleagues. But that apart, I found it a strange detour and wondered what the point of it all was.

Paula Cunningham is also a good character, and her scenes contain some of the sharpest writing. It’s almost as if the author thought about how far he could develop that character, and was trying her out as a potential star in her own right. Interesting.

At the end, I had enjoyed the experience, but felt strangely disinterested in learning any more about the adventures of Flanagan. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the character, but she just doesn’t draw me in the way others do. So, even though there is a series – apparently popular and successful – I won’t be going there. For me, there was something missing.