Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Borderland of Fame

Are you the kind of person who likes to be ahead of the trends? Who spotted JK Rowling before anyone else - or wish you had? If so, I have a tip for you: Brian McGilloway. His crime novels, featuring the life and cases of Inspector Benedict Devlin, are not yet household names: but they very soon will be.

I read the first of the Devlin novels, Borderlands, a year or so ago, and its sequel, Gallows Lane, at the weekend. McGilloway's third and most recent offering, Bleed A River Deep, hurries from Amazon as I write.

Series detective novels are difficult to pull off. They need to be satisfying in their own right, but at the same time to show character development in the protagonist. (Unless you opt for the Agatha Christie approach and deploy unchanging Poirot or Marple time after time). Your protagonist must be essentially sympathetic but with credible flaws sufficient to make him interesting. And please, don't make those flaws centre around alcohol abuse--it's been done before, you know. Chandler and Rankin can get away with it; the rest of you have to come up with something else. (Just about the only flaw in The Wire, TV's most novelistic cop show, is McNulty's hard-drinking act).

Brian McGilloway has realised all this. Devlin is not an embittered loner; he is a family man and his attempts to reconcile the demands of domestic life with the rigours of policing is one of the interesting and original features of the series. Devlin is clearly one of the good guys, but he's not above doing the wrong thing for what he thinks are the right reasons (in Gallows Lane he plants evidence on a suspect he cannot otherwise convict: you know it's not going to turn out well).

McGilloway is already attracting comparisons to Ian Rankin and it's easy to see why. Both are socially-aware crime writers whose work is firmly anchored to a specific time and place.: both are also extremely accomplished. The series detective can go one of two ways: Rebus, growing credibly but sometimes unexpectedly, or Scarpetta, ever less believable with a welcome long outstayed. Given McGilloway's understanding of character, I have no doubt he'll be in the former camp.

I'm looking forward to keeping Inspector Devlin company in his cases for years to come.
Enhanced by Zemanta


Brian McGilloway said...

Hi Tim
Many thanks for your generous comments here. It is very kind of you. I'm glad you liked the book.

David Isaak said...

I agree unreservedly with everything you said.

The prose is gorgeous, too, I might add.