This is a violent, bloody novel where the violence and bloodshed actually serves a purpose, rather than just trying to shock the reader. It's a revenge story, a political thriller, and a tale of redemption, with the main character being a former IRA thug who's now trying to atone for his past crimes. His atonement, however, consists of killing a lot more people, because the ghosts of his former victims won't leave him alone until he does.
The question of whether the ghosts are real or only in Gerry Fegan's head is only slightly interesting. They are real to him, and as a result, he's put on a path of bloody retribution in which he takes down former comrades, party bosses, and other important people in the fragile new peace of Northern Ireland. Initially introduced to us as a merciless thug and killer, someone who did hard time in prison and deserved it and probably should have stayed there longer, Fegan becomes one of the most sympathetic characters in the book. He wants nothing more than to wash the blood off his hands, but he can't because his ghosts won't let him. So he has to keep killing, and as we learn the stories behind each of the men he kills and the ghosts demanding the next sacrifice, we see that Fegan was never more than a small cog in a big, bloody, grinding machine. Everyone in Northern Ireland, from the IRA to the Unionists to the Brits, played very, very dirty. You have to keep reminding yourself just why Fegan is being haunted or you'd start to like the guy. He genuinely wants to redeem himself, and yet his killings threaten to unleash a new wave of violence.
This sort of loose cannon run amok story is standard fare for Hollywood, and I think The Ghosts of Belfast
would make a great movie, though they'd probably screw it up. It's not written like a movie, though. There is a lot of introspection and angst and some delving into the politics of the "movement" before the peace accords and the current state of the Irish criminal underworld. The writing is taut, not overly verbose, not full of narrative flourishes, and lean on descriptive details, but it was good work and carried the story along. Most of the non-Fegan characters aren't developed much, since they're basically ducks being lined up to die so all you need to know is why, but this is a story where characters definitely take a back seat to plot and action.
For all the bloodshed, it was never gratuitous and never went on overly long. I found this is a compelling listen with a good plot, and will look for more from this author.