Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Gallows Lane by Brian McGilloway

Publisher: MacMillan New Writing, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-230-70061-1

First line: James Kerr returned to Lifford on a blustery morning in May, shuffling under the heavy clouds that scudded across the sky towards the North.

When James Kerr crosses the border from Northern Ireland, Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin is there to meet him. Kerr has just been released from prison after serving eight years for his part in an armed robbery. Devlin’s boss Superintendent Olly ‘Elvis’ Costello, doesn’t want any trouble on his patch this close to his retirement, and asks Devlin to convince Kerr to return to the North.

Kerr, who has always protested his innocence, has found God while in prison. Although Costello is somewhat sceptical - “If Jesus knew Kerr was looking for Him, He would’ve hid” - Kerr claims to have returned because he wants to atone for his sins.

A young girl, Karen Doherty, is found brutally murdered in a nearly finished house on a new development. She had been on a hen night at a local nightclub, and was last seen getting into a car after being thrown out of the club for being drunk. However, her blood showed the presence of the date-rape drug, GBL.

When a break-in at the local pharmacy, another attempted rape and more murders follow, Devlin has to work out how these apparently unrelated crimes are connected and what they have to do with the old armed robbery case of which Kerr had been convicted. The investigation takes Devlin into the world of bodybuilding, steroid abuse and its affects.

At the same time a possible case of police corruption, old rivalries and the arrival of a team from NCIB to take over the murder investigation, make the atmosphere at the police station volatile. There is a lot going on in this book, but the complex plot elements all come together superbly and in a way that still surprised me.

Set in the town of Letterkenny, Donegal on the border between the North and South of Ireland, Gallows Lane has a strong sense of place that goes beyond the geographical and includes the historical and political background of the location. The police need to cooperate with each other across the borders is sometimes undermined by the political remnants of the old conflict.

Devlin is a different kind of character than most fictional police protagonists. He has a happy marriage and a young family he adores. He struggles to balance his work and his family life, and isn’t always successful in keeping the two separate. Devlin is all too human - he makes mistakes, and is tempted to bend the rules, both in his work and his relationships. Gallows Lane is a terrific book, combining an intricate and satisfying plot with wonderful characters, and I look forward to reading more about Devlin.

Gallows Lane is the second in the Inspector Benedict Devlin series, the first being Borderlands.


  1. My f2f group has decided to read this Helen, so I now have it on the top of mount tbr

  2. Now I have read GALLOWS LANE, I just want to say how spot on your review is Helen.
    For all that, I don't think I ejoyed it as much as you