Those We Left Behind

Written by Stuart Neville

Review written by Judith Sullivan

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.

Those We Left Behind
Harvill Secker
RRP: £12.99
Released: June 26, 2015
Hbk / eBook

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 bedroom.  

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 book.

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!



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