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So Say the Fallen (Belfast Novels) by Stuart Neville
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Soho Crime Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616957391
Date: 20 September 2016 List Price $26.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Serena Flanagan's life has become a living nightmare. Her dangerous, demanding job as a detective chief inspector in Northern Ireland is overshadowing her responsibilities as both wife and mother. Her family treats her as though she is a lodger. Both she and her husband, Alistair, are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Alistair, who was stabbed by a criminal Serena was pursuing, insists she quit her job. She refuses. To make matters worse, she is receiving grief for investigating the death of Henry Garrick, which appears to be a clear case of suicide. However, Flanagan suspects someone murdered him. Flanagan's investigation leads her to believe that Henry's young wife, Roberta, is a vicious, cold-blooded serial killer.

Stuart Neville's latest mystery, So Say the Fallen, is a taut psychological thriller that is quite chilling. It is a superb, expertly crafted psychological study of two women: The altruistic Serena Flanagan is struggling to have a happy, loving family and a successful career; the materialistic Roberta Garrick strives to become independently wealthy and will deceive, manipulate, slander, and destroy anyone who tries to prevent this. Roberta is crafty and cunning. No one (man, woman, or child) is safe around her. Roberta Garrick is one of the most evil women I have encountered in literature. Much of the novel's shocking revelations involve Flanagan digging into Roberta's past. It is a past that continues to haunt Roberta despite her efforts to conceal it.

While reading So Say the Fallen, I was reminded of the highly successful 1987 theatrical film, Black Widow. Alexandra (Debra Winger) is the Federal statistician who pursues Catharine (Theresa Russell), a murderous gold digger, to the lush tropical paradise of Hawaii. Alexandra, a single, unfulfilled woman, develops a very close friendship with the black widow in order to prevent her from killing again. Flanagan is married and never attempts to develop a friendship with her murder suspect; her goal is to prevent Roberta from fleeing Ireland. Both Catharine and Roberta are extremely obsessed with money. Both are always trying to escape their pasts by creating new identities. Neither one knows the true meaning of love. Both Flanagan and Alexandra are struggling to maintain or obtain love.

Also by Stuart Neville:
Jack Lennon Investigations:
* The Ghosts of Belfast
* Collusion
* Stolen Souls
DCI Serena Flanagan:
* The Final Silence
* Those We Left Behind
* So Say the Fallen
* Ratlines

The destructive force of secret sin is a major theme in So Say the Fallen. A main character for which readers will feel sympathy is Reverend Peter McKay. This widower lost his faith when his beloved wife, Maggie, suddenly died. Lonely, bitter, and weak, he is coerced by Roberta into feeding her crippled, bed-ridden husband an overdose of morphine. Consumed with guilt, he yearns to confess his sins before they destroy him. Reverend McKay reminds me of one of the most famous characters in classic literature: Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale of Nathaniel Hawthorne's masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter. No one but Hester Prynne knows he is the father of her illegitimate daughter, Pearl. The guilt consumes him. Reverend Dimmesdale whips himself on the back and scratches the letter "A" into his chest. Eventually, the stress causes him to die of a heart attack.

There are six novels in Stuart Neville's excellent Belfast series. So Say the Fallen is the third one (following Those We Left Behind and The Final Silence) to feature DCI Serena Flanagan. She is a survivor, having won a battle with breast cancer. All of her cases involve criminals who cannot escape their sordid pasts. I read a lot of mysteries and Flanagan is one of the few characters who portray the plight of working women who are struggling to keep their families together. We live in a world where divorce has become the norm. I love to read about a family that is surviving against all odds. Despite So Say the Fallen having a lot of emotional trauma, there are also some beautiful, inspiring moments. I'm glad that Flanagan is praying. I'm a firm believer in the power of prayer and I'm praying for another installment featuring DCI Serena Flanagan.

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