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Stolen Souls: A Jack Lennon Investigation by Stuart Neville
Cover Artist: Photo: Greg Haire / Hardlight Studios
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Soho Crime Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781569479834
Date: 04 October 2011 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Galya Petrova, a beautiful, young Ukrainian woman, is a victim of human trafficking. She is imprisoned within a Belfast brothel. Galya escapes after killing a worthless, bullying loser, Tomas Strazdas, who tried to rape her. Unfortunately, he's the brother of a wealthy mobster, Arturas Strazdas, who orders his henchman, Herkus Katilius, to find and kill the young woman. Finding Galya will be difficult because she has once again become a prisoner. This time, a religious fanatic, Billy Crawford, who preys on prostitutes, is holding her captive. Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Jack Lennon follows a bloody trail littered with corpses in hopes that it will lead to Galya.

Stuart Neville's bloody, fast-paced crime drama, Stolen Souls, begins with a stab to the throat and ends with a shocking act of bloody retribution. Its intriguing, nonstop action and violence moves at a fast clip over a period of a few days, primarily Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The most joyous time of the year becomes the deadliest season for mobsters, corrupt policemen, and a vicious serial killer masquerading as a Baptist minister. In Belfast, emergency sirens drown out the caroling, the red-and-blue flashing lights of police cruisers are reflected in the deep snow, and mangled corpses become gruesome holiday decorations. Initially, Inspector Lennon's biggest concern was whether or not he’d see his daughter Ellen on Christmas Day. Now, his biggest concern is merely staying alive.

Initially, I had my doubts about the success of Stolen Souls considering that one of the most interesting characters in the series was killed in a previous novel, Collusion.

The strong supernatural element that began with the series' outstanding debut, The Ghosts of Belfast, has considerably diminished with each novel. The series began with the insane hit man, Gerry Fegan, seeing the ghosts of his victims. Later, he has prophetic visions. Now, Inspector Lennon's six-year-old daughter Ellen draws prophetic sketches. She sees a bad man chasing after a young woman.

What makes Stolen Souls stand apart from the others is the tremendously dangerous dilemma in which Inspector Lennon finds himself. An atrociously evil mobster, an indestructible hit man, a corrupt police officer, and a deranged serial killer all want him dead for various reasons, but mostly because he is trying to prevent them from killing Galya.

The author brings each character vividly to life by describing sordid details from their pasts. For example, Arturas Strazdas is the evil owner of the European People Management, which supposedly finds migrant workers for companies. However, it is a front for human trafficking, chiefly the trafficking of poor, young European women for prostitution. Arturas sometimes suffers uncontrollable fits of anger during which he strikes himself. Once, a housekeeper merely witnessed one of his fits; he had her murdered and her body forever hidden. His mother, Laima, is equally despicable; she is the one that orders the execution of everyone involved in Tomas's death.

Christians may find the author's choice of serial killer highly offensive. Why do many Christian characters have to be depicted as fanatics, hypocrites, or worse, serial killers who prey on the helpless? Billy Crawford is supposedly an ordained Baptist pastor who hears God ordering him to deliver the prostitutes to Him. Crawford believes he is rescuing them from becoming Stolen Souls, i.e., emaciated prostitutes who have sex like automatons, without feeling or emotion. At least the author chose a Baptist pastor in lieu of the clichéd Catholic priest. I am a Baptist. Was I offended? Slightly. Mostly I was amused. The overuse of the word "whore" was also humorous. It was like hearing the word "ho" in a rap album over and over again.

Speaking of hypocrites, Inspector Lennon could be classified as one of the flawed heroes that are so in vogue these days. His determination to rescue Galya probably stems from the fact that he, a police officer, often visits brothels. He keeps telling himself (in hopes that he will believe it) none of these prostitutes had been forced into having sex with him; they are not the victims of human trafficking. He endeavors to be a good father to Ellen; once again, he probably does it out of guilt for having abandoned her mother, Marie McKenna, when she was pregnant. However, the reader can't help but believe him to be a good guy when he repeatedly risks his life to save Galya. In the previous novel, Collusion, he battled a hit man, known as the Traveller, who was hell bent on killing Marie and Ellen.

Stolen Souls is an excellent novel in an equally excellent series. It can be read as a standalone but I highly recommend reading the three novels in order. A character from Collusion makes a brief, but startling, appearance in Stolen Souls. The reader won't comprehend the true horror behind the event. (I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I was Inspector Lennon.) I dare say that Stolen Souls is the best of the series. At the least, it is tied with the debut, The Ghosts of Belfast. Stolen Souls is highly recommended reading for all fans of foreign crime drama. I am definitely looking forward to the next installment in this unique series.

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