Borderlands by Brian McGilloway

BorderlandsOn the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic lies the body of a local teenager, Angela Cashell. Her clothes have been taken, and the only clues seem to be an expensive ring on a finger and an old photograph left amongst a tribute to the dead girl. The case is passed to Inspector Benedict Devlin of the Garda but it is far more than a random killing.

As Devlin and his team investigate, all the while dealing with the rising tensions caused by the victim’s family, a second body is discovered – with the same photograph left near the body. Is it possible that the truth behind Angela’s murder lies not in the present but in the long-buried past? Devlin finds himself in a race against time to find the killer – and to find the next victims before the killer can strike again.

Yes, it’s true. A novel by someone who is not Paul Doherty being reviewed on this blog! See, it does happen on occasion!

Seriously, I’m taking a brief hiatus from the tried and tested authors and am going to spend the next month looking at new and neglected authors. Neglected? That means the authors who I’ve enjoyed in the past but have spent too long getting around to their next books, such as Paul Halter, Kate Ellis and Christopher Fowler. New? Well, here’s one for a start – Brian McGilloway.

OK, stay away from the blurb on this one – or at least the Amazon product description as it gives away a couple of the important early plot twists. Luckily, I hadn’t read them as I found it hidden in one of the long-unvisited corners of my Kindle. Seriously, there is a lot of stuff hidden away on there that I picked up at various times for a pittance or less, and it’s about time that I started reading them – hence this book.

It’s a very engaging read. Surprisingly, the border situation isn’t played out as you might expect – the usual trope here is for the two police forces to be constantly butting heads, but instead you get the sensible approach and both forces co-operate to find the killer. The borderland setting is used effectively to support the story but isn’t used to drive the narrative, exactly as it should be.

And the story is an absorbing one. It’s full of well constructed characters – some pleasant, some less-than pleasant, all of them behaving in ways consistent with their characterisation. The mystery plot makes a lot of sense, too. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it’s a traditionally clued mystery, but the twists and turns in the core plot are reminiscent of a classic mystery.

Devlin is a well-rounded character and an interesting lead. Although he does make a rather disappointing personal choice at one point, he is less flawed than some leads that I could think of, and I’m looking forward to reading more of him in the future. This is the first of (currently) five Devlin novels and I’ll certainly be returning to them in future.

This is despite it containing one of my bugbears – going to have to be vague about this. A character that plays a significant role in the denouement vanishes after their relatively brief appearance in the first half of the story, only to reappear only in the denouement. I had to look back in the book to remind myself who they were – this isn’t the best way of pulling a surprise.

But as I said, despite this, this is a great read. A police procedural with real hints of classic mystery with a fascinating setting, this is an extremely strong debut novel. Highly Recommended.

9 comments

    • I think the Birlstone gambit is specifically supposed to be someone going off stage by dying, isn’t it? This person just doesn’t get mentioned until the denouement – nothing so dramatic.

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      • In Queen books the gambit is admittedly sometimes supposedly dead but usually it’s by extension about having the persons drift off the range of suspects to catch you out …

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      • I don’t think the “out of sight, out of mind” idea is a trick – more of an oversight at best, a cheat at worst. I see it as a sign of sloppy writing, more often than not – unless I’m supposed to assume the character is dead, of course. That’s different. “I didn’t spot the murderer because I forgot that he existed” isn’t the response to a fair play mystery to me.

        It has to be said though, in Borderlands, this isn’t exactly the case and there’s a lot more going on. It’s just part of the denouement that has this aspect in it.

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      • Fair enough Steve though in Queen it’s a specific narrative strategy that reaches its apotheosis very late in their oeuvre – as you say, it’s a question of tactics and authorial misdirection only at its best – at worst it’s just a wind-up!

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  1. Nice review, glad you enjoyed the book. This is a series my husband and I both read and we have enjoyed them. My husband has read the first three. I may have read only two of them.

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