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McGilloway, Brian - 'Gallows Lane'
Paperback: 340 pages (Apr. 2009) Publisher: Pan Books ISBN: 0230707696

Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin has problems; firstly Superintendent Olly 'Elvis' Costello wants him to meet troublemaker ex-con James Kerr at the border and advise him to move on and away from Lifford. Kerr has got religion in prison and claims he has come back to forgive a person from his past. There has also been a suspiciously convenient find of drugs and guns, possibly an old IRA arms dump, made by two of Devlin's colleagues Harry Patterson and Hugh Colhoun. This has got the force some good publicity just at the time when Patterson and Devlin are vying for promotion.

Then the body of Karen Doherty, a young woman who has been brutally beaten to death, is found in a half finished house on a new development. Ben Devlin and his partner Caroline Williams investigate, questioning Karen's friends who were clubbing with her the night before she was murdered. Meanwhile there is a burglary at Harkin's Pharmacy and breast cancer treatment drugs are stolen. Then there is another assault - 15-year-old Rebecca Purdy is beaten badly but not sexually assaulted. The viciousness and the concentration of the blows on both the young women as well as CCTV images, suggest a body builder who has "steroid rage". The theft of breast cancer drugs also suggests a link between the cases because they help reduce one of the side effects of steroid abuse "moobs"(man boobs).

Peter Webb, a lecturer in social science at the College of Further Education in Strabane, is picked up for questioning in connection with the drugs and arms found on his property but is mysteriously and quickly released after the intervention of someone very high up in the police hierarchy. Webb may have been an informer for Special Branch in the North. When Webb is murdered, the complications multiply, and the national police are called in with Devlin and Williams sidelined to deal with the pharmacy burglary. But the cases are linked and the story moves to a conclusion that ties up all the loose ends but sadly shows how much stress there is on today's police officers.

This excellent police procedural is the second in the Inspector Ben Devlin series, and follows on from the highly acclaimed BORDERLANDS (which I have not yet read). The author Brian McGilloway, who teaches English at St Columb's College in Derry, is a great crime fiction fan and noting that some of his favourite detectives were coming to the end of their working lives decided to create his own detective. The books are set on the Tyrone-Donegal border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic a setting that allows McGilloway plenty of scope for twists and turns in his plots. Ben Devlin has good relations with Jim Hendry his opposite number across the border in the North and a not so pleasant relationship with some of his Garda colleagues. His happy family life at home with Debbie and his two young children, is constantly under the strain caused by the inherent dangers of his work. Although at one stage in the book you wonder if his caring relationship for his attractive partner Caroline will develop into something more than friendship. Devlin is a good human being and cares deeply about people. When he does stray from absolute honesty it is with the best intentions, because he feels he owes the relatives of victims his best efforts to get them justice.

The stress he feels which brings on his panic attacks, and the dangers to his family, are more real in this border area, where past and present political and religious conflicts complicate police work. But these are factors that provide the elaborate plots and interesting human relationships that have helped Brian McGilloway to write an intriguing, inventive, crime story and creating in Ben Devlin, a successor to Rebus and Morse.

Read another review of GALLOWS LANE.

Norman Price, England
June 2009

Norman blogs at Crime Scraps.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 28/06/2009 16:21