Soho Crime, 336 pages, $26.95
Belfast author Stuart Neville has written many critically praised books, mostly police procedurals, set in his neck of the Irish woods. What sets them apart is the depth of the psychological underpinnings of his characters. He also brings in surprising elements that don’t necessarily define the main storyline but are compelling in their own right.
Serena Flanagan first popped up in Neville’s “Those We Left Behind,” as a conscientious DCI. It was a powerful novel with multiple viewpoints. “So Say the Fallen” is a worthy second entry in the series.
First of all, I always have to applaud writers who effectively present a story from the viewpoint of a different gender. The most common problem is a sort of stereotyping or caricaturing of the other gender. (For instance, women aren’t just strong, they’re super-strong; men aren’t just kind, they’re preternaturally kind.) Neville’s Serena Flanagan strikes just the right note. She is an ambitious, hard-working detective but also a caring mother and wife. The problem is to strike just the right balance without shorting any of the important elements in her life. This is another point of praise for Neville: He doesn’t whitewash Flanagan’s problems and make everything nice and easy. Her dilemma is at the core of “So Say the Fallen.”
Henry Garrick had a run of bad luck to follow a run of good luck. After his first wife ran off, he met a beautiful, religious young woman online. They married and had a beautiful daughter. Then the bad lucked started to roll in. His two-year-old daughter drowned and his wife almost drowned. Then he was in an automobile accident and lost his legs. Despite the awfulness of the recent events, his wife took faithful care of him and his outlook was generally cheery, despite his pain and immobility. His belief in God sustained him as did his relationship with his pastor, Reverend Peter McKay.
Why, then, did Henry ingest multiple packets of morphine and commit suicide?
Flanagan is assigned investigation of this case. The foregone conclusion by everyone else is that Henry couldn’t stand the pain, isolation, and dependence on his wife any longer. But something in her interviews of Roberta, the wife, and Reverend Peter has triggered an uneasiness. Despite creative investigation into the lives of the Garricks, nothing shows up.
But we know better because we are privy to Reverend Peter’s desperate musings. He is having an affair with the beautiful widow. He is feeling guilty. Is it just because he has been seeing a married woman whose husband is disabled, or is it because he has lost his faith, a serious problem for a person who is God’s earthly representative. Henry Garrick was a staunch supporter of the Reverend Peter in his time of sorrow when Peter's young wife died a few years before. As a very well off person, Henry also was a great contributor to the coffers of the church.
As Flanagan’s relationship with her husband and two children, all of whom previously have suffered trauma as a result of Flanagan’s job, deteriorates, she seeks solace in Reverend Peter’s church, although she lost her faith, if she ever had it, a long time ago.
Guilt. Guilt suffuses everyone’s story. It swirls normal moral precepts, inveigles its way into ordinary life, weighs the world down in tragedy. It is Stuart Neville’s glorious calling.