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Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Rising. Brian McGilloway. Pan Books (2010)

An engaging and enjoyable Irish police procedural that takes full advantage of its location in the Irish borderlands. A call out to a burning barn develops into a murder inquiry for Inspector Benedict Devlin when a body is uncovered. Later Devlin gets a call from an ex-colleague regarding her missing son, a situation that causes domestic tensions for Devlin. At the same time a community group called The Rising are making headlines and trouble for the police by very visible actions against local drug dealers. The accidental discovery of another body complicates the investigation and the tangle of leads spread across both sides of the border and threaten to pull Devlin's family into the morass. The plot manages the various threads very well, slowly and carefully weaving them together in a sharply satisfying climax.
Brian McGilloway has sidestepped the majority of the genre fixtures regarding police officers pursuing tricky investigations, Ben Devlin is cranky and a little unsympathetic but he is not a grousing loner with a near addiction to alcohol or with any balancing odd hobbies. He is a hard working, committed and competent professional who is suddenly faced with a domestic crisis that is entirely credible. This willingness to give space and time to developing a believable domestic context for Devlin is very important in increasing the impact of the story. As the lines between professional and personal move closer the response from Devlin rings true as he tries to be a husband, father and police officer at the same time when all are under pressure.
One of the strongest aspects of the story is that for a first person narrative the rest of the cast emerge as strongly as Devlin himself, they are diverse and speak strongly in their own voices. All the cast are given a chance to stand out and even the smallest walk on part is given a chance to have an impact. This means that Devlin does not have to carry the weight of the story himself and this adds strongly to the story. The plot is cleverly tangled and with a strong cast it is never obvious where it will lead nor how anyone will respond.
The physical location is a major character in the book, the border between South and Northern Ireland is a deeply ambiguous place with a considerable number of competing histories all still active and needing to be negotiated. No activity is simple, it will always have layers, intended or otherwise that make policing difficult, the cross border movements. legal or otherwise are a constantly complicating factor.
Easter is about resurrection, rising from the dead in Christian theology, Easter rising has a important other meaning in Irish history and Brian McGilloway uses all the meanings in a very nicely understated and effective way in the story. The drawing together of the plot and thematic threads is managed very deftly and they play off each other to create a very enjoyable knot.

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