Source: Review copy
Publication: 30 September 2021 from Constable
My thanks to Constable for an advance copy for review
Ben Devlin is back
How can a dead woman avenge herself on her killer twelve years after her murder?
This is the puzzle facing Ben Devlin in his latest case. He is called to the scene of a murder – a man has been stabbed to death in his rented room and when his identity is discovered Devlin feels a ghost walk over his grave as he knows the name Brooklyn Harris well. As a teenager, Harris beat his then-girlfriend Hannah Row to death, and then spent twelve years in prison for the murder.
As Devlin investigates the dead man’s movements since his release it becomes apparent Harris has been grooming teenage girls online and then arranging to meet them. But his activities have been discovered by others, notably a vigilante, who goes straight to the top of Devlin’s list of suspects… until he uncovers that Harris was killed on the anniversary of Hannah’s death – just too big a coincidence in Devlin’s books. So Hannah’s family join the ever-growing list of suspects being interviewed by his team. And then forensics contact Devlin with the astounding news that blood found on Harris’s body is a perfect match to that of Hannah Row’s. Yet how can this be; the girl was murdered many years ago – and Devlin doesn’t believe in ghosts.
It’s the paperback publication day for Blood Ties and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to tell you a wee bit about it. Brian McGilloway is a lovely, understated writer and this very welcome return to the Ben Devlin series is so much more than a police procedural. Set in 2020, just before the beginning of lockdown and when Covid was just starting to bite, this book deals with a range of complex issues from cross border co-operation in the wake of Brexit, to the barely concealed sectarianism that still lurks under the surface of Northern Ireland’s politics.
Easily read as a stand-alone, this book concerns Detective Inspector Ben Devlin of the Garda Siochana. Sent to investigate after the body of a man has been found stabbed in a local AirBnB, Devlin discovers that the dead man is an ex-convict, released after serving his sentence for the rape and murder of a teenage girl. Blood Ties is centred on the borderlands area of Lifford in the South and Strabane in the North, where Devlin must work with his counterpart Jim Hendry to get to the truth.
McGilloway gently explores the nature of victimhood as he introduces a vigilante group – barely concealed thugs – who have been tracking the dead man and baiting him. No -one feels sorry for the dead man, and quite a few think he got what was coming to him. The situation is complicated by blood found at the scene which seems to tie this murder back to the original crime for which he was incarcerated. This story features child exploitation and social media alongside historic crimes.
To solve this man’s murder means going back to the original crime and stirring up a world of hurt and bad memories for the girl’s family and friends who were with her on the night she was murdered.
Devlin also has to come to terms with the fact that his father’s health is failing. He’s no longer able to take care of himself and as Devlin struggles with the new ‘soft’ border arrangements between the Republic and Northern Ireland, he’s also making his own transition from father and loving son to carer – and that in itself is very difficult, setting him more on edge than usual as the reality of beginning to lose his father hits home.
It’s a gently told story and the more powerful because of that. Everything is changing and as far as Devlin can see, none of that change is for the better. McGilloway explores themes of loss, of dealing with shifting sands and uncertainty, of family and of grief in a novel that is both touching and emotional while also dealing with hateful crimes and social media vigilantes.
Verdict: As with his last book, The Last Crossing, McGilloway is able to blend together so many personal and political strands to create a work that has depth and meaning beyond the obvious. This feels like a personal tribute to fatherhood, too and as such is unashamedly emotional. Brian McGilloway is a class act who deserves to be widely read. If you haven’t read the Devlin series, you have such a treat awaiting you!
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Brian McGilloway is the New York Times Bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Inspector Benedict Devlin and DS Lucy Black series. He was born in Derry, Northern Ireland in 1974. After studying English at Queen’s University, Belfast, he took up a teaching position in St Columb’s College in Derry, where he was Head of English until 2013. He currently teaches in Holy Cross College, Strabane. His first novel, Borderlands, published by Macmillan New Writing, was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger 2007 and was hailed by The Times as “one of (2007’s) most impressive debuts”. In 2014, Brian won BBC NI’s Tony Doyle Award for his screenplay Little Emperors, an award which saw him become Writer In Residence with BBC NI. Little Emperors is currently in development with Two Cities Television and BBC NI. His book, The Last Crossing, was Highly Commended by the judges in the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Book of the Year Awards in 2021. Brian lives near the Irish borderlands with his wife, daughter and three sons.