Bull O’Kane, paramilitary leader and master criminal on both sides of the Irish border, has been reduced to a bitter old man living in a convalescence home run by his daughter due to an entanglement with Gerry Fegan, a former IRA man who turned on his former comrades. His pride seriously dented, O’Kane wants Fegan and everyone who witnessed his demise to be wiped from the face of the Earth. To that end he hires The Traveller, a compassionless assassin, to kill everyone present on his farm the day Fegan wreaked his deadly havoc. Killing O’Kane’s former employees is relatively straightforward, but Fegan, Maria and her daughter, Ellen, have disappeared. Only Maria’s father is dying after a stroke, meaning she’s likely to break cover to travel back to Belfast to see him before he dies. And if they travel back, then Fegan will inevitably be drawn back to protect them. The troubled Inspector Lennon has his own reasons for wanting to see them, as Maria is his former partner and Ellen the daughter he barely knows. Aware that his daughter might be in danger, Lennon is desperately trying to track them down, his own colleagues trying to divert and slow his progress.
At one level, Collusion is a fairly straightforward thriller – The Traveller hunts down O’Kane’s victims and Fegan and Lennon try to stop him. It rises above average fare though by being a multilayered tale with noir sensibilities – no real heroes or neat resolutions, just people with complex, troubled and intertwined histories. The writing is excellent, with well constructed prose and scenes. The characterisation is strong and the plotting sound, with pages flying by as the end nears. I would have liked a bit more backstory and time with some of the characters, and a little more plot elaboration in places, but that’s just personal taste. And, although it’s not essential to read The Twelve, Neville’s previous novel first, it would certainly help as just about all the characters in Collusion first appear there and this is very much a sequel. Overall, an entertaining read, with the best opening scene I’ve read for a while. Whilst there are a pack of Irish crime writers flourishing at the minute, it’s not clear if one is going to break free and join John Connolly in the mega-sales league. Stuart Neville may well be that writer on the strength of his first two novels.