Friday, May 22, 2020


BORDERLANDS by Brian McGilloway (Pan Books, 2008)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

When the corpse of local teenager Angela Cashell is found on the border between the north and south of Ireland, Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin is tasked with heading the investigation: the only clues are a gold ring placed on the girl's finger and an old photograph left where she died.

When another teenager is murdered, 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.

As a thickening snowstorm blurs the border between north and south, Devlin finds the distinction between right and wrong, vengeance and justice, and even police officer and criminal, becoming equally unclear.

I'd heard some great things about Irish crime writer Brian McGilloway before I bought a copy of BORDERLANDS and read it over a summer holiday break several years ago. At the time there were already four books in his series starring Garda Inspector Inspector Benedict Devlin, but I was keen to start at the beginning, curious to see how the character would first be introduced and described. 

McGilloway's debut sees Devlin involved in a murder case where the body of a teenager is found on the Tyrone-Donegal border, an are known as the 'borderlands' given it's position vis a vis Eire and Northern Ireland. This leads to both police forces being involved in the case, as they search for who is responsible. Devlin is part of the Irish police force, living in a small-town just south of the border. 

The Garda Inspector has plenty on his plate: the case is a tricky one that gets more complicated as he investigates - involving politics, Irish history, and other deaths and disappearances; he's got to deal with the arrogance of northern authorities who think 'British is best' regardless of history or facts; his neighbours think his daughter's dog is at fault for attacks on their sheep; and the married Devlin's eye is dangerously caught by an old flame. McGilloway does a good job of delivering us a flawed and interesting main character with plenty of seeds for development over the course of a series. 

Overall, I really enjoyed BORDERLANDS. McGilloway has a nice writing style, and decent touch for weaving plot, theme, setting and character into something polished - rather than one aspect overwhelming the others or leaving a thin feeling in parts. At the time I read BORDERLANDS, I'd say it was one of the better series-starting debuts I'd read for a little while. Lots of promise shown. 

Well worth a look. 

This is an expanded version of a mini online review I wrote of this book after reading it in early 2011. 

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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