Stuart Neville has filled the fictional cemeteries of Northern Ireland with bodies in his books – The Ghosts of Belfast and Collusion.
In The Ghosts of Belfast Gerry Fegan, overwhelmed by the voices in his head of a dozen people he has murdered during “The Troubles” is convinced that he will have no peace until he has killed the men who ordered or took part in the killings with him. Fegan embarks on a vigilante mission that has his ghosts disappearing one by one as he avenges their deaths. At the end of the book there is a bloody conclusion that leaves another pile of bodies.
In Collusion it is not Fegan dealing death across the northern counties it is a hired killer, The Traveler, who is eliminating “loose ends” with regard to the trail of bodies Fegan left in his wake in The Ghosts of Belfast. Once again there is a vicious confrontation at the end of the book that adds more bodies.
High body counts are not my favourite books. I especially dislike crime fiction that essentially sees the killer identified by being the last body alive.
Margot Kinberg, in a recent post at her fine blog Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, discussed the oft stated premise in crime fiction that it is easier to kill again having killed once.
In a comment I disagreed with the principle for killers who are neither serial killers nor professional killers. Average people driven to kill are rarely a danger to anyone beyond the person they have killed.
Professional killers often, but not always, get enured to causing death. I read a biography of Australian WW I sniper, Billy Sing, who was credited with killing 150 opposing soldiers, mainly Turks. His struggles with life after the war reflect a man whose mind had damaged by all the killing during the war.
Neville, in Fegan and The Traveler, has created two very different minds of a killer. While Fegan gradually comes to regret his killings The Traveler has no remorse.
Fegan retains a degree of empathy. The Traveler will kill anyone for the right price. Human life has no value to him.
In both books, most explicitly in the title of Collusion, is using the stories to illustrate how many involved in the killings of The Troubles have retained or gained leadership positions in Northern Ireland, Ireland and Great Britain.
I appreciate drama was created through the killings of a dozen in The Ghosts of Belfast who deserved to die for their actions in The Troubles. Yet I regret that the norm for a modern thriller has become a double digit body count.
It is even more glaring in the movies. It is easy to find online sources for the body counts in the James Bond movies. They set out that James Bond has killed an average of 16 people per movie. Another 43 people die in each movie putting the overall total at 59 killed per movie!
I think it is time for book bloggers to lead the way in identifying high body counts for readers by inserting an acronym at the start of each thriller review. We could put in bold, DDB for Double Digit Bodies, to alert readers there will be 10 or more bodies in the book.
While Neville has the ability to make a DDB plot work I am reflecting on whether I want to read his next books. How many people should be killed in fictional Northern Ireland?