The Rising

It starts with a body, a missing boy and a vigilante group. After that, Brian McGilloway's new novel really starts to pick up

The Rising is the fourth in Brian McGilloway’s series of Inspector Devlin detective novels. It shares the same sparse aesthetic and rock-solid competence that distinguished the other novels.

Does that sound like they have been damned with faint praise? They

haven’t. Consistent competence in a writer is hard to come by. It’s even harder to find one like McGilloway who takes that competence and uses it as the foundation for some truly clever writing.

Tragedy jumpstarts The Rising. A fire set to cover up a murder claims an innocent man’s life and Caroline Williams, Devlin’s one-time colleague and almost lover, has lost her teenage son somewhere in the dark. In both cases Devlin is there, but incapable of changing the course of events.

Two unrelated events: a missing boy and a dead man. The only common factor is Devlin himself. Once the story starts to unfold, however, the errant plot threads start to tie themselves together.

Williams’ son isn’t missing, he’s dead. He was dead when he texted his mother to tell her he was in Dublin. Nobody wants to believe he’d kill himself, but what would reason could there be to kill a teenage boy?

The dead man in the house was Martin Kielty, a known drug-dealer. Nobody is going to miss him and there was every reason in the world to kill him. Particularly the local paramilitaries turned vigilantes The Rising who hope to piggy-back to power on an anti-drugs platform.

In both cases something isn’t right and Devlin can’t let it go. But with the return of an old enemy, who has gotten too close to Devlin’s life for comfort, and a personal tragedy he had never anticipated Devlin doesn’t know if he can bring himself to solve the case either.

Dissect The Rising and there is enough drama to do a Greek tragedy justice. Devlin’s family, career and sense of self are all on the wire here. One misstep and he could lose it all. More terrifyingly, he could lose it even if he doesn’t misstep. Yet there is rarely an overt acknowledgement of that in the text.

It is here that McGilloway’s central idea of Devlin’s character comes into its own. Devlin is not a lone wolf, rogue cop on the edge willing to do anything to take his enemy down. He’s a family man who goes to work and worries about growing old while he does his paperwork.

Sound boring? Just remember, instead of having nothing to lose, Devlin has everything.

McGilloway’s understated writing and Devlin’s stoic characterization make those moments when emotion breaks through all the more powerful. At one point Debbie, Devlin’s wife, is telling him he needed to let the bereaved Williams’ deal with her loss in her own way.

‘And try to keep your feelings for her under control,’ she says at the end. There’s no argument, no threat implicit in the words, and all the more powerful for it. The moment is fraught with shared knowledge and old anger.

The Rising is well-written novel with a solid plot, shot through with a complex web of interpersonal conflicts, political tensions and moral compromises. There are moments when it allows the reader to get just a little ahead of Devlin and others where it dangles resolution only to snatch it away at the last minute.

The only complaint, if complaint you could call it, is that McGilloway’s characters are all so real that it’s hard to take pleasure in their downfall. Even the manipulative Morrison and the sleekit teenager Cahir Murphy are oddly sympathetic at times.

After all, even a mad, bad, dead lad like Martin Kielty has a Ma who loves him.

The Inspector Devlin series can be purchased at CultureNorthernIreland's Amazon store. Read Brian McGilloway's My Cultural Life interview.

Tammy Moore