Thursday, 28 May 2009


I decided to start with Brian McGilloway at the beginning, his first Inspector Benedict Devlin novel, Borderlands. It's a story heavy with atmosphere, set in the Christmas season in the eponymous territory where Ireland and Northern Ireland bleed into each other. The corpse of a teenaged girl is found almost straddling the border, but the investigation falls to Devlin and the Garda to lead. But after the killing has ignited some incidents of revenge, the appearance of a second body begins to suggest that something else is going on, and a ring found on the first girl's body further suggests something buried deep in the past.

McGilloway is strong on atmosphere, everything from the awkwardness of Devlin's being tempted by his former school sweetheart, who years ago dumped him for her now more successful husband, to the corruption suggested behind that husband's father's climb to fame. Devlin moves through the estates of Tyrone with the sense of impending doom you might find in American 'dirty realism', and the pressures on his home life are well-drawn. Devlin has that put-upon borderline depressiveness that characterises so many police detectives, but unlike his Swedish or British counterparts, the Wallenders and Faradays and Resnicks, his family life seems only slightly disfucntional, and far from being a social outcast, he's central to the community, which makes the story all the more involving.

But this is also a police procedural, and requires something of an ensemble cast to succeed, and most of the rest of the ensemble are sketched in rather more perfunctorily. This is to be expected, but it's also important when all signs point to one of the team being involved in the crimes.

The story itself is complicated, not to say convoluted, and not only requires Devlin to miss some clues, but to actually walk away from one which a lab man is prepared to give him. But he neither asks the obvious question nor waits for an answer. I considered this somewhat puzzling until I came across this quote from John Banville, about his detective Quirke. 'He's rather stupid, like the rest of us—he misses the point of things, he stumbles over clues, mis-reads people. He's far too dim to be a Philip Marlowe.' Never mind that Marlowe is often somewhat dim himself, Banville's Quirke could just as easily be Devlin, or vice versa. There is a sense that crimes in this world are not really meant to be solved, or if they are solved, not necessarily punished. I read this book while I was in Dublin, and I'm not sure if it represents a particularly Irish, or Catholic view of the world, but that doesn't seem improbable. McGilloway conveys it strongly, and writes it well, so I'll be curious to see in which direction Devlin goes next.

Macmillan New Writing, £9.99 ISBN 9780230020078

No comments :