Friday 18 September 2009

A Wee Review - Gallows Lane by Brian McGilloway

(First appeared on CSNI on 01/Oct/08)
Brian McGilloway is probably the most successful writer to come from the Macmillan New Writing stable. He’s secured a two-book deal with Macmillan New Writing and a further three-book deal with Macmillan. Borderlands, the book that kicked off the Devlin series, was nominated and short-listed for a CWA Silver Dagger, translated into German and Japanese, and has recently been released in the US and Australia. And in the second of the Inspector Devlin series, Brian McGilloway brings us the powerful Gallows Lane. Really, he’s doing the Northern Irish crime fiction scene proud.

And I’ve been totally remiss in putting off reading and reviewing Gallows Lane until now. But hey, better late than never, right? Right?

Ahem. On with the review.

As with Borderlands, Gallows Lane opens with the discovery of the gruesome murder of a teenage girl. The difference in this case being that the atrocity has been committed very much within Gardai jurisdiction. The similarity? Devlin is going to have a hard time solving the case and will attract the wrong kind of attention to himself and the people he cares about in the process. As he liaises with the Dublin NCIB, the PSNI and British Intelligence, and loses popularity among his colleagues when he doubts the authenticity of a high-profile arms and drugs find, the elements to this expertly layered plot come together perfectly to offer something special.

Gallows Lane is a much more ambitious book than Borderlands, and McGilloway juggles the interweaving plots with casual ease, never fumbling once. And he seems to have refined his voice. While I truly enjoyed Borderlands, Gallows Lane went beyond that. It had that elusive je ne sais quoi quality that kept the book constantly within hand’s reach for the four short days I gorged on it. I’m still trying to figure out the magic behind the ‘unputdownable book’, but this year I’ve experienced it in the work of Ken Bruen, Adrian McKinty and Ian Sansom, to name a few; and now, Brian McGilloway seems to have learned the formula. Come on, lads. Share the wealth. What’s the secret?

I’m also intrigued by Devlin’s character development. He’s gotten a little cynical since Borderlands, but at times he conveys this cynicism with smirk-inducing humour. At a funeral on a sunny day he thinks to himself, ‘So much for pathetic fallacy.’ Isn’t that lovely? There are more cracking one-liners peppered throughout the novel, but I’ll let you guys discover them for yourselves.

Along with his early-onset cynicism, I have a feeling that we’re being subtly prepared for further straining of his marriage in the future. Gallows Lane offers many personal ups and downs as Devlin’s wife, Debbie, is shown to still hold resentment for her husband’s past with one Miriam Powell, and at times struggles with the pressure of the dangers Devlin’s job can bring to the family home. And Devlin often notices and enjoys beauty in other women. It’s very much an underlying characteristic, and used to great effect by McGilloway, but as far as I can see, Devlin is reading the menu a little too often... and his mouth is watering.

If you’re looking for the latest and greatest police procedural crime fiction, get on to McGilloway’s work right now. A mere two books in to the Devlin series, and he’s proved himself a heavy weight in the genre. Mark my words, McGilloway is destined for the heights of success enjoyed by the Colin Dexters and Ian Rankins of this world, and he truly deserves it. Bring on the third Devlin novel, Bleed A River Deep.


adrian mckinty said...

You can get him in Australia. Loved 1. Kick ass stuff. Looking forward to 2. Ordered it from St Kilda Library (no "cheap bastard" remarks).

Gerard Brennan said...

After you told me how much books cost over there, I'm not surprised you're using the library.

I think you'll find Gallows Lane even more kick ass than Borderlands. Bloomin' brilliant.


Brian McGilloway said...

Thanks Ger - a very kind review indeed; I'm delighted you enjoyed the book. Thanks for your support of the series.

Thanks too Adrian. Dave Torrans sold me a signed Dead I Well May Be years ago and I've been a follower since! It also has one of my favourite titles for a book (alongside Snow Falling on Cedars). Glad to know the Devlin books are actually in Australia.



Gerard Brennan said...

Brian - No worries. It's a real cracker. Looking forward to the next one.


adrian mckinty said...


I actually got the librarian to buy both books so there's a few coppers in your pocket, even if they dont come from me.