Saturday, October 8, 2011

RWC Quarterfinal: Ireland vs Wales (McGilloway vs Bauer)

Currently, one of the biggest sporting events on the planet (some say the third biggest after the FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympics) is being held right here in New Zealand; the Rugby World Cup 2011. As you can imagine, all sorts of rugby-themed and linked things are happening up and down the country, and plenty of the the world's sporting media have their lens and pens (laptops) turned this way.

Given this weekend marks the kick-off of the knock-out stages of the tournament, I thought I would use this opportunity to have a little fun, and create crime fiction posts that mirror the games being played (ie the quarterfinal line-up). So for the next eight games over the next three weekends (four quarterfinals, two semifinals, one 3rd/4th playoff, one final) I will highlight a crime, mystery, or thriller novel from each of the countries playing the game, that I have either read or purchased in the past year or so.

First up, it's the Celts in the Ireland vs Wales quarterfinal, later this afternoon/evening in New Zealand:

Representing Ireland: BORDERLANDS by Brian McGilloway
I'd heard some good things about Irish writer Brian McGilloway before I bought a copy of BORDERLANDS and read it in January this year. McGilloway's debut novel introduces Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin, and involves a murder case where the body of a local teenager is found on the 'borderlands' that span Ireland and Northern Ireland. The only clues are a gold ring placed on the girl's finger and an old photograph, left where she died. Then another teenager is murdered, and things become further complicated when Devlin unearths a link between the recent killings and the disappearance of a prostitute twenty-five years earlier a case in which he believes one of his own colleagues is implicated.

I really, really enjoyed BORDERLANDS, and I'm very much looking forward to reading more of McGilloway's writing (I already have BLEED A RIVER DEEP on my TBR bookshelf at home). He has a nice writing style, and a great touch for weaving plot, theme, setting, and character together into something polished yet still distinctive. It's certainly one of the better debut crime novels I've read in the past few years, and a worthy initial representative of Ireland in my little RWC-themed blog series here.

Representing Wales: BLACKLANDS by Belinda Bauer
Another debutant on the crime fiction scene, Welsh author Bauer certainly hit the ground running with BLACKLANDS, which won the CWA Gold Dagger last year - a rare feat for a first novel. I read BLACKLANDS late last year, and enjoyed it. The novel centres on 12-year-old Steven Lamb, who spends his free time searching the windswept moors outside his small town, hoping to find trace of his uncle Billy whose disappearance two decades ago fractured the impoverished family in such a way that even though Steven wasn't born when it happened, he experiences the ongoing effects of the tragedy.

Desperate for closure, Steven turns to an imprisoned paedophile, writing him a letter that he hopes might garner some much-needed clues - but instead opening Pandora's Box to an even worse nightmare. I liked the way that even though Bauer's debut was seemingly simple in storyline terms and the way she writes, there was plenty going on underneath. BLACKLANDS delves deeply into character and human frailties, gives convincing “voice” to both child and child killer, and ably depicts the dark underbelly of English village life.

Result: for me, although I'm picking Wales to beat Ireland in the rugby, I think I'd have to go with BORDERLANDS over BLACKLANDS in the crime fiction match-up, in a close call. Both are very good books, and worthy representatives of their respective crime writing and rugby playing nations, but I'd probably rush back to read more McGilloway before more Bauer, just.

UPDATE: In the real-life result, the Bauers took down the McGilloways 22-10, deservedly moving ahead to the semifinals of RWC 2011. One of the form teams of the entire competition, the boyos from the valleys are certainly playing some scintillating rugby, and it will be a great game between them and France next weekend.

I enjoyed the Celtic tussle down at 'party central' in Auckland, where the game was displayed on huge screens and thousands of fans gathered, dressed up in their teams' colours. Here's a pic of me and a friend with a very happy Welshman, now living in New Zealand, following the final whistle (see left).

So, what do you think of Irish and Welsh rugby, and crime fiction? Comments welcome.


  1. Great idea for a feature, Kiwicraig!

    Think I'd go along with your awarding the tie to McGilloway. But in fairness to Bauer, McGilloway is more of a seasoned pro for the big international crunch fixture. Give Bauer time and she could become a dangerous opponent.

  2. Craig - What a fun idea! I'm looking forward to seeing how the tournament progresses.