on 1 January 2010
This novel is the second in a new series featuring Benedict ["Ben"] Devlin, an Inspector in the Guards, or An Garda, in Lifford, Donegal, Ireland. [The title derives from the name of the street along which, centuries ago, the condemned were led en route to their death.] As the book opens, Devlin meets with a man from the North country, James Kerr, just released after 8 years of incarceration, his mandate being to make sure Kerr crosses back over the border to his home territory, thereby ensuring no further criminal activity by him on Devlin's patch. But Kerr, it seems, has lately found God, and first needs to complete a 'mission' in keeping with that spiritual awakening.
A more challenging job soon awaits Devlin, as the body of a young girl is discovered, savagely beaten to death. When that murder is followed by the severe beating of another girl, this one only sixteen years old, the investigation intensifies. The only problem is that no one can come up with anything more than a vague description of the man responsible.
Complicating things somewhat is the fact that Devlin's boss, Supt. Olly ["Elvis"] Costello, is about to retire, and there is an impending promotion within the ranks. Devlin is urged to put his name up as an applicant, causing some political infighting among his colleagues.
Devlin is a man of principle, something that creates problems for him, as he soon has reason to question whether that same standard, and his "need to prove himself right, regardless of the cost," will bring lethal harm to him or his loved ones. He is a happily married man [when his devotion to his job and those aforementioned principles are not causing marital strife] with an infant son, a seven-year-old daughter, and a one-eared basset hound named Frank.
The novel is intricately plotted, with the last and crucial piece of the puzzle not falling into place until the last pages. It is wonderfully well-written, putting this writer among others such as Ken Bruen, Declan Hughes and Stuart Neville in evoking the Ireland of today where, as the author notes, "the only person less trusted than an Englishman who opposes the Irish is an Englishman who supports them."
I haven't read the first McGilloway novel but certainly I didn't feel that I was missing some of the character connections in this second outing for Garda Inspector Devlin. He appears to be a mixture of Rebus and Joe Faraday as far as this reader is concerned.
The plot is suitably disguised and the killer not revealed until the end. The red herrings are such that there are few clues as to who is the killer, so no wonder Devlin discovers the correct result with some difficulty. It is good to see a man in his position suffering the inward angst of his job, not to mention quite a few physical attacks from foes and colleagues. I'm not quite sure about the character of Benedict Devlin. He appears and wishes to be seen to be honest and yet is happy to plant a piece of evidence to gain a result, wrongly, as it turns out. He's willing to lie to protect the promotion prospects of a colleague for all the wrong reasons and yet, this turns in his favour eventually. He seems to be looking for some female contact away from home and yet is desperate to keep his family on side.
Ah, well, such are the vagaries of fictional police folk. The story is well told. There is a good mixture of both criminals and police people most of whom have character defects in some way or another. There's also a good thread within the main storyline to show us that police work generally covers many on-going crimes and that the police are like the rest of us, under-staffed and underpaid for the hours worked. The picture of the two parts of Ireland are well portrayed and the characterization seems good, certainly good enough for me to want to read 'Bleed A River Deep' as soon as I can obtain a copy.
on 14 April 2009
Are you the kind of person who likes to be ahead of the trends? Who spotted JK Rowling before anyone else - or wish you had? If so, I have a tip for you: Brian McGilloway. His crime novels, featuring the life and cases of Inspector Benedict Devlin, are not yet household names: but they very soon will be.
I read the first of the Devlin novels, Borderlands, a year or so ago, and its sequel, Gallows Lane, at the weekend. McGilloway's third and most recent offering, Bleed A River Deep, hurries from Amazon as I write.
Series detective novels are difficult to pull off. They need to be satisfying in their own right, but at the same time to show character development in the protagonist. (Unless you opt for the Agatha Christie approach and deploy unchanging Poirot or Marple time after time). Your protagonist must be essentially sympathetic but with credible flaws sufficient to make him interesting. And please, don't make those flaws centre around alcohol abuse--it's been done before, you know. Chandler and Rankin can get away with it; the rest of you have to come up with something else. (Just about the only flaw in The Wire, TV's most novelistic cop show, is McNulty's hard-drinking act).
Brian McGilloway has realised all this. Devlin is not an embittered loner; he is a family man and his attempts to reconcile the demands of domestic life with the rigours of policing is one of the interesting and original features of the series. Devlin is clearly one of the good guys, but he's not above doing the wrong thing for what he thinks are the right reasons (in Gallows Lane he plants evidence on a suspect he cannot otherwise convict: you know it's not going to turn out well).
McGilloway is already attracting comparisons to Ian Rankin and it's easy to see why. Both are socially-aware crime writers whose work is firmly anchored to a specific time and place.: both are also extremely accomplished. The series detective can go one of two ways: Rebus, growing credibly but sometimes unexpectedly, or Scarpetta, ever less believable with a welcome long outstayed. Given McGilloway's understanding of character, I have no doubt he'll be in the former camp.
I'm looking forward to keeping Inspector Devlin company in his cases for years to come.
In the second of the DI Benedict Devlin series, the body of a young girl is found in a new housing development. On top of this, Devlin's boss, Costello, announces he will be retiring and encourages Ben to put himself forward. His colleague, Patterson, is up for consideration for the same promotion. When Patterson suddenly finds arms and drugs he is given good press which Devlin cynically questions.
Then there is a burglary and the novel starts with a local man released from prison returning to Lifford.
McGilloway weaves all these strands effortlessly into a story which I just couldn't put down.
Devlin as the central character is great. In the main he is a good man but he is prone to temptation and a little bit of dishonesty for the greater good.
For me, Graham Hurley is the master of British police procedurals. It's easy to think that with this only being a second in a series, this will be a top Irish police procedural series as this has it all, well-crafted plot, great characterisation, realistic dialogue, a different setting, superb prose - what more can I add!
First Sentence: James Kerr returned to Lifford on a blustery morning in May, shuffling under the heavy clouds that scudded across the sky towards the North.
DI Benedict Devlin has a lot to deal with. He as been asked to keep an eye on recent parole James Kerr and encourage him to leave the area.. Kerr claims here's not there to commit crimes but first to talk to someone. But people Kerr knew start to die and Kerr, himself, if found murdered. Two girls have been drugged and beaten; and one died. Devlin want to find the killer before he strikes again.
How nice to read a police procedural where there is more than one case that needs to be solved. How nice, too, when the protagonist is a married man with children and without great angst or addictions, other than the stresses of the job. That doesn't mean he is perfect. In fact, McGilloway has made Devlin a classically flawed human.
The story is set in the Borderland of Ireland, where a concern is felons escaping either way over the border to the North or South. Again, it's a nice chance to have the story not set in a large city. The political aspects add to the veracity and interest to the story.
The plot is well done with lots of threads and relationships. The story was never predictable and I certainly never guessed the primary killer.
There were a couple little problems. McGilloway loves portents, which did make me crazy. I occasionally felt lost in the story and had some problems keeping the characters straight. .
One rather amusing thing was that my copy was clearly a first state, first printing. Each chapter heading is a date. Unfortunately someone missed that the first state copy went from Sunday May 28, Monday May 31, Tuesday Jun1, Wednesday June 2, Thursday June 1...and didn't get on track until page 66 and Friday June 4th. It was definitely disconcerting.
Even so, McGilloway has a wonderful style and I look forward to his third book.
Can Brian McGilloway's second novel, GALLOWS LANE, possibly live up to the first, BORDERLANDS, which among other kudos was Euro Crime reviewers' favourite read of 2007? Almost, but not quite. Never mind, though, the sequel is a great read.
The central character, once more, is Detective Inspector Ben Devlin of the Lifford Garda. Although Lifford is a small town just south of the border in Ireland, it certainly has more than its share of crime. Before many chapters have passed, an old IRA arms cache has been found in some woods; a young woman has been viciously attacked and killed in a house under construction on an estate; a pharmacy has been burgled; and a woman reports a prowler in her garden. To top all this, Ben is asked by his boss, Superintendent Costello, to ensure that a local man recently released from jail after a sentence for armed robbery, Jim Kerr, does not stay in the neighbourhood but moves on, because he is trouble.
In the midst of coping with these events, Ben is also caught up in office politics: Costello is about to retire and encourages Ben to apply for his job. This does not sit well with his colleagues Patterson and Colhoun, who discovered the arms cache - in particular Patterson, the senior partner of the pair, is one of Ben's rivals for the promotion. To what lengths will they go to make Ben look bad?
The strength of GALLOWS LANE is in the plotting, and in Ben's local knowledge. With the help of his attractively sympathetic partner Caroline Williams, he follows up every clue, visiting night clubs as well as discovering that a theft of Tamoxifen, a breast-cancer drug, could be to prevent "moobs", which turns out to mean "man-boobs". As with BORDERLANDS, the Troubles are a haunting, constant presence, affecting the investigation but not taking centre-stage. When the murders escalate, however, the national police are bought in to assist, or as Ben and Caroline soon find, to take over the main investigation while they have to work on apparently more minor crimes. Gradually, it becomes apparent that all are connected, and eventually the two teams work together with a growing mutual respect.
Ben is an imperfect hero, not entirely honest, and prone to panic attacks and the odd bit of extra-marital temptation - in this book the danger is in the shape of Caroline. Ben's wife Debbie is rather unformed, and his children somewhat idealised, so the threat to his marriage from Caroline - or rather, Ben's feelings for her - seems real, although readers of BORDERLANDS will find it hard to believe that Ben could possibly leave Debbie.
GALLOWS LANE may take only a couple of hours to read: it is an absorbing, satisfying book that delivers on all its plot promises; provides a strong sense of humanity; and leaves the reader looking forward to more. I am only sorry, from the point of view of future sequels, that one character who has been developing nicely has decided to leave the area by the end of the book.
Brian McGilloway has produced another good read in Gallows Lane. I thoroughly enjoyed Borderlands (Inspector Devlin Mystery 1) which first featured Benedict Devlin who lives in Lifford,Ireland just across the border.
A young girl is found murdered on a housing developement with an unused condom. Meanwhile an assortment of drugs have been taken among them breast cancer drugs. Benedict is also unsure about a stash of guns found on a local man's land, oh and his boss hands in his notice and thinks Benedict should apply for promotion. All in all there is plenty going on in this book which could be confusing but the storylines are handled well that the suspense is maintained without descending into chaos.
Brian McGilloway writes a skillful polie procedural, there are many threads woven into this story and the characters are life like. This isn't a policeman who is a loner, Benedict has a wife and two young children to juggle along with his work. He has real relationships with his colleagues, some of whom he likes and respects and some he doesn't trust. These elements mean that this book is a satisfying read.
on 1 April 2010
You have to love a policeman who has panic attacks but still struggles to solve a murder. McGilloway has a talent with characters who aren't quite what you'd meet in the usual police procedural. The books are good reading.
It took me a little while to get into Gallows Lane. The first 100 pages or so seemed ponderous, and somehow lacking, and I wasn't sure about some of the police organisation and procedural elements. Slowly, however, I was drawn ever further into the book, all the careful groundwork laid out in the early stages gaining its significance as the various threads are pulled ever tighter. McGilloway's skill is in the plotting and sense of place. He weaves several subplots in and through each other, although as with Borderlands some of the story is a little over the top, some situations are clearly plot devices, and I had difficulty believing the resolution of two strands. The result is a slow burner that shifts through the gears into a real page turner. He also does a good job of setting the reader in small town Ireland and the landscape along the Donegal/Derry border. Where the book struggles a little, I feel, is with characterisation. Devlin is well drawn and an interesting enough character - a committed family man that seems vulnerable to temptation, prepared to cut corners, occasionally hot tempered and prone to panic attacks. Many of the other characters, however, are underdeveloped. For example, we get little sense of Devlin's wife, or the principal victims or perpetrators, or some of his colleagues, with little in the way of back stories and motivations. This is partly due to the large cast and partly due to the pacing, where characters are getting little `page time'. Regardless, McGilloway's Inspector Devlin series is developing nicely. Comparisons are often made to Rankin and Dexter, but I think Robinson and Booth are probably nearer the mark.
on 9 July 2012
A very well written and tightly plotted novel set in the borderland area between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, with investigations led by Garda officer Benedict Devlin.
Devlin is an unusual protagonist for a series of police procedurals - he is simply too normal! No quirky tastes for Wagner or fine claret, no drink problem, no broken family! Eyt he is immensely plausible despite all that!
As with the first novel in this series, the murders come fairly fast and furiously, each with its own particular grimness, though the violence does not seem gratuitous, and Devlin's normality permits him to be as appalled as the relatives of the victims. Similarly, Devlin is not above personal fear, and succumbs to debilitating panic attacks when his own family is threatened.
All in all a marvellous successor to "Borderlands" and I look forward to reading the next instalment in this admirable series.