Judith Sullivan is a writer in Leeds, originally from Baltimore. She is working on a crime series set in Paris. Fluent in French, she’s pretty good with English and has conversational Italian and German. She is working to develop her Yorkshire speak.
This is one of those
books that’s an enormous pleasure to read but a toughie to review. It’s not
just that potential spoilers are so many but that they really, really would
spoil future readers’ enjoyment and surprise.
Those We Left Behind
is not a whodunit or even a whydunit. Rather it is an intelligent and grown-up
exploration of the consequences today of a shocking crime seven years before.
There’s no doubt Neville picked that spread for its semi-mythical, Biblical
allusions. Seven years is also long enough for memories to have clouded and
distorted but not so long that facts or emotions have fully faded from recall.
The 2007 crime has echoes of events in the recent memory of
any reader of UK newspapers. Belfast brothers Ciaran (12) and Thomas (14)
Devine were convicted of the grotesque murder of their most recent foster
father. Orphans shunted over the years from family to family, the Devines
murdered David Rolston in the home they shared with him, Rolston’s wife and son
David. The Helter-Skelter style killing was bloody and brutal, resulting in the
splintering of Rolston’s skull, the loss of an eye and gory bloodbath in his
We learn early on that Ciaran confessed to the murder and was
sentenced to seven years in a juvenile facility. Convicted as an accomplice,
Thomas’ stretch was shorter and he is out when the 2014 story begins. Two
women, one involved in 2007, another not, crop up in today’s story as surrogate
mother cum authority figures. Serena Flanagan is a copper and Paula Cunningham
Ciaran’s social worker. This novel is the first in a (what I hope will be an
extensive) series featuring Flanagan.
A mother of two, Flanagan is grappling with a string of problems
dominated by her recent bout of breast cancer and ensuing reconstructive
surgery. Her relationship with Ciaran is complex, to put it mildly. Again
spoilers abound but Shots! can safely say Serena and Ciaran play a game of
push-me pull-you that is both realistic and disturbing. A major plot driver,
that back and forth jeopardizes Flanagan’s job and stability. Cunningham’s life
is also a precarious balancing act as she fights off the demons of alcohol and tobacco
and the devastation of a recent break-up. The third dancer in this waltz of
souls wounded by the Devines’ actions is Daniel Rolston, the victim’s embittered
son bent on securing revenge.
These five players come together in a macabre set-up where
more devastation is hinted at in each beautifully composed chapter. Through
believable and lucid dialogue, Neville foreshadows the horrors to come but
never gives too much away. Over a few days following Ciaran’s release, the
inevitable consequences of the dysfunctional Ciaran/Thomas dynamic build to
increasingly dreadful events affecting the five protagonists, their families,
colleagues and pets.
We know Flanagan will return because the dust jacket says
so. Also, Neville astutely weaves into the Devine tragicomedy another thread
which ends in a cliff hanger that one suspects will drive the plot of the next
Don’t be left behind – read this book, enjoy and prepare for
more books involving the flawed, chaotic, saddened and very interesting Serena
Flanagan. It’s a corker!