Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Gallows Lane, by Brian McGilloway

The second novel in the "Inspector Benedict Devlin" series has just been released. As with Borderlands, the first in the series, the style is understated in a way that paradoxically emphasizes the horror and emotion of the crimes and their aftermath. McGilloway's characters are not "hard-boiled" in the venerable noir tradition, they are instead struggling with the consequences of their contact with death and violence. Devlin is concerned about the effect his work is having on his family, though the family members are themselves barely sketched in. More completely drawn, and also conflicted about her job, is Devlin's partner at work, Caroline, as well as a few other cops. The murders are as lurid as in Borderlands, though there is more variety in the deaths here. There's also plenty of misdirection in the plot, which is not straightforward in terms of either story or police work. But the novel is carefully constructed, emphasizing Devlin's mistakes rather than his competence, and the ensuing self-doubts (just as he's up for a promotion that he's not sure he wants). There is an interesting, aggressive hostility between Devlin and one of his colleagues that keeps the police aspects of the book lively. Some of these threads of conflict and self-doubt promise much for a sequel, but Gallows Lane is itself a satisfying story on many levels. The book's complicated group of police, the female detective as partner, and the very strong sense of place echo a faraway detective series, the "peninsula" novels of Garry Disher, from Australia. But McGilloway is a more terse and poetic writer, compressing a great deal of event and emotion into a small space. Among the very accomplished group of new Irish crime writers, McGilloway ranks very high in his ability to evoke a particular milieu, to populate it with interesting and believable characters, and to structure his stories around meaningful (if sometimes horrifying) metaphors.

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