Monday, March 12, 2007

Brian McGilloway: Borderlands

Borderlands, by Brian McGilloway, is due for publication by Macmillan New Writing (MNW) in April this year. It is essentially a modern whodunit, a story told in the first person by the official police detective, Inspector Devlin.

This book is an unusual addition to the MNW list, in that it is subtitled 'The first Inspector Devlin mystery', thus indicating that there will be more books featuring the same character. And, furthermore, if you look at the author's own web site, you will find that the second in the series will be entitled Gallows Lane, and will be published in spring 2008. There will be a mass-market paperback of Borderlands from Pan at around the same time. And there is already one of those funny 'airside' editions of Borderlands -- airside seems to mean a trade paperback version, sold only in airports.

All the above evidence suggests that MNW feel that, in publishing Brian McGilloway's crime fiction, they are on to a winner. And the question is, Are they right?

Broadly speaking, they are. Though it has to be said that Mr McGilloway has chosen a field in which there is one hell of a lot of competition.

To begin with, a novel featuring a police Inspector is up against a whole battalion (or whatever the police equivalent is) of other police inspectors with whom Inspector Devlin will be compared. In the very beginning of the genre, there was Poe's Inspector Dupin, to be followed, in due course, by a thousand or so detectives in the golden age; and, in modern times, we have Inspectors Morse and Rebus for Devlin to contend with. (Morse, by the way, is also published by Macmillan.)

McGilloway's Inspector Devlin is a member of the Garda Siochana (Guardians of the Peace), which is the police force of the Republic of Ireland (Eire). He lives and works on the borders between the Republic and Northern Ireland -- hence the title of the book.

McGilloway has chosen to give us a first-person account of the unravelling of this crime story, and this is a viewpoint which can, at least in theory, create some serious problems in a whodunit. The whole thrust of the story, usually, is devoted to the question of who committed the murder(s). And if we share the detective's thoughts during the course of his investigation, then there may come a point where, if suspense is to be maintained up to the final revelation, the detective just has to stop thinking -- at least as far as the reader is concerned.

In practice, however, only a few fusspots like me are likely to be troubled by such niceties of narrative technique, and in this instance the author deals with the matter quite well.

The publisher describes the book as 'highly lyrical', which means that the writing gets a bit fancy and poetic in places. Personally I like my detectives to be a bit more hardboiled than that, and generally immune to the charm of sunsets. However, we live in a new age, and I dare say that many readers will welcome a detective who is a sensitive sort of chap, the kind of person who, no doubt, helps with the washing-up.

Speaking of which, Borderlands also gives us a fair chunk of the detective's domestic life. Again, this is not for me, but historically a large proportion of the readership of crime novels has been female, and the inclusion of much of Devlin's private concerns will probably go down well with many readers.

As crime stories go, I found this quite gripping -- and that is not a word that I use lightly. As is often the case, it is sometimes hard for the average reader (who comes to the book only once a day, perhaps) to keep track of who the various characters are; but this is not a major problem.

It will be interesting to see how the main character develops. There are are lots of possibilities here. For example, Devlin's sidekick, Caroline Williams, could be built into a major character all on her own. Also, at some point, Devlin might transfer to Dublin. And so on.

Overall all then, this is an excellent start to what might be an entertaining series. Borderlands is not as good a book as Peter Temple's The Broken Shore, but then Temple has been writing for some time. It is, however, a better book than Benjamin Black's Christine Falls; though it won't get anything like the same public attention because Black (aka Banville) has a Booker prize in his back pocket. No, life isn't fair. I never said it was.

14 comments:

David Langford said...

A small correction: Poe's detective, the Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin, was a gifted amateur rather than an Inspector.

David Langford said...

PS: It would have been more useful if I'd suggested an alternative early detective inspector in fiction. The obvious example is Inspector Bucket from Bleak House.

kitty said...

Borderlands also gives us a fair chunk of the detective's domestic life. Again, this is not for me, but historically a large proportion of the readership of crime novels has been female, and the inclusion of much of Devlin's private concerns will probably go down well with many readers.

Maybe I’m not a typical female reader, because I hate all the personal family info writers are determined to include. Sex scenes, whether brief descriptions or blow-by-blow details, are the worst. Most writers simply can not write sex well. However, my primary reason for hating all that domestic stuff is because it stops the action. It’s not a coincidence that here in the US the original TV crime series CSI (NOT the sin-off shows) is so popular. It’s primarily technical, and although some of the characters’ lives are touched upon, that info is kept minimal.

Andrew O'Hara said...

Thanks to His Grumpiness for an always well considered review.

Jenny Haddon said...

I have to admit to a superstitious shudder when novels are advertised as lyrical. Far too often it is code for high-minded prissiness which gets in the way of the story. Three star flapdoodle in fact.

Though on your rescommendation, Grumpy, I will set aside my reservations in this case. We'll see.

Jon said...

Kitty and Jenny, there are hundreds of classic detective stories which focus on the investigation rather than the personal traumas of the detective or lyrical descriptions of landscapes. (You can find some of them on the Golden Age of Detection Wiki). Unfortunately many of these are being allowed to go out of print and disappear forever because publishers and copyright holders can't be bothered to find new ways of marketing what they have instead of blindly following the herd into each new trend.

I would happily give ten new doorstop-size detective stories for a reissue of one old one.

Susan Abraham said...

...All the above evidence suggests that MNW feel that, in publishing Brian McGilloway's crime fiction, they are on to a winner. And the question is, Are they right?

Michael, as a reader, I love stories on sleuths and have miraculously stayed loyal to this passion. I'd shamelessly embrace another. Don't know what is it about those Inspector tales but there you are... :-)

Susan Abraham said...

Sorry, meant to say for the above:

don't know 'what it is' and not what is it.

Jenny Haddon said...

Jon, thanks for the link to the Golden Age of Detection page. Spent a happy coffee break pootling about there and came across Monsignor Ronnie Knox's ten comandments for detective fiction. (Thou shalt not have a mysterious Chinaman ...) Ah, those were the days.

kitty said...

Yes, jon, thank you very much for the link!

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