Gallows Lane, by Brian McGilloway

I picked up Brian McGilloway’s first novel, Borderlands, in the Dublin airport last summer, something to read on the long flight home. I liked it so much, I went looking to see if he had written any other books. He had, but I couldn’t find them in U.S. bookstores.
Back in Europe this summer, I picked up Gallows Lane, again for the plane home.
The recurring protagonist in McGilloway’s mysteries is Benedict Devlin, a somewhat flawed and tormented detective inspector with the Irish Republic’s Guardia. Devlin is basically an honest police officer, but up against a wall in a frustrating murder investigation, he succumbs to the temptation to plant evidence – not enough to convict a scapegoat, but just enough to justify a warrant for the suspect’s DNA.
Devlin worries about his family, the victims whose brutal murders he investigates, even the suspects. And he suffers panic attacks under stress.
The setting is in Ireland’s borderland near Northern Ireland, where crime and criminals sometimes float back and forth across the border and police agencies on each side of the border jealously guard their turf and cooperate only because it’s can sometimes be in their own interest.
In Gallows Lane, one young woman is beaten to death and another nearly so. At the same time Devlin investigates those cases, he deals with another string of killings that may be linked to a robbery years earlier. Devlin also wrestles with whether, and how, to report his suspicions that a cache of guns and drugs found in a remote area may have been planted there by the officers who discovered them to aid one’s prospects for a promotion.
Gallows Lane is a fast-paced read, and what I like about it is that it’s about the sort of crimes police officers really investigate and the way they really do it. There aren’t the grand conspiracies and geo-political motives so many crime novels lean on. The crimes are simple and raw, yet difficult to solve.
McGilloway’s novels also don’t end up reading like they were written under contract to a publisher (50,000 words, done in 120 days with requisite amounts of sex and violence). Maybe they are, but if so he’s better at it than some of the successful mystery authors whose books come to rapid, utterly unforeseeable conclusions because the author is running out of words and has to suddenly introduce completely new motives to bring his latest commercial venture to a conclusion. McGilloway’s books march to their conclusion across a bridge with sound, visible pilings.
McGilloway was born in Derby, Northern Ireland, and still lives there, teaching English at St. Columb’s College. And a third Inspector Benedict novel has recently been released, Bleed a River Deep.
I still haven’t seen his books on the shelves of my local book sellers, but they are available online from several major U.S. dealers, including Amazon.com and Borders.com.
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