September, 2009 on the book image to look at the book...

Simon "lovesit!" - thank you to Jordana B. for passing it along.

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"The Twelve"
by Stuart Neville

I have been jolted into action from a most unexpected quarter.

As you may or may not be aware I have posted a request for you to choose the next book which I review in Simon's Reader. I am going to remove from that list "The Twelve" by Stuart Neville, and I'm going to have us look at it right now.

In time we become immune, numb to the cliches which we read or hear from people's lips. One of the great cliche nurseries I've come to recognise, is that one finds on the dust jacket or cover of the books we read. How many times have we seen the phrase "Literally a tour de force" and, confusingly, "A literary tour de force". How about this one ... "Unputdownable" - usually on US covers I think. But hang on, I've just read an unputdownable book, so maybe I should call it ... "Literally unputdownable" Nope, I've seen that one too. How about this?

I had to keep the book in my hands, even when I was quite busy doing something necessary, which wasn't reading, on the off chance that I might be able to grab the 20 seconds or so that it took to get to the end of the next paragraph.

I wasn't the only one who had to read "The Twelve" in one extended go. I gave the book to John the day I finished it, and he could not let go of it until he'd finished.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect with Stuart Neville's debut novel. When I picked up "The Twelve" I just had the vague idea from the gunman pictured on the front cover, that inside it there would be some sort of violence going on. Boy, what a surprise I had in store. I can't even tell you the premise of the story without spoiling the experience for you. To his great credit, by the time you've got halfway through chapter one, Stuart Neville is already dragging you by the hairs prickling up on the back of your neck into the realisation of what this story is all about.

I'm not going to be giving away any great secrets if I say that the book is set in post Good Friday peace accord, Northern Ireland. The story is both personal and political, and it hits you hard. To me the structure of the book seems dead simple, devastatingly so in fact. This kind of plot is made to work; can only work, by virtue of Neville's deft and clever character portraits. Each one, fleshed out, with motive and personal history. Each one painted with the language they talk in; their action and their internalising; in their sense of family; in the clothes that they wear and the manner in which they wear them - and that's just the living. The novel works so effectively exactly because he uses the characters to pull at the backbone of the story, and to introduce a growing sense of unease; of an increasingly out of control trajectory, that is going to lead you the reader into God knows what kind of cataclysm for a climax.

I'm not even going to mention key character names; the best way to get into this experience is totally clean; without any expectation whatsoever.

I highly recommend this book; its right up there with the best of the year for me.

It's not often that I receive an indirect communication from the author, but in this case I did. First off I must say that Katy and I, and by association the rest of team DD are proud to think that Mr Neville is even aware of the existence of these pages on the Duran Duran website. Secondly ... I'm truly thankful that I can write so positively about his book.

**"The Twelve" will be published in the United States as "The Ghosts of Belfast" in October