“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.
Friday, June 29, 2012
Review: THE NAMELESS DEAD by Brian McGilloway
Whilst investigating a tip-off on the small island of Islandmore, in the middle of the River Foyle, the Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains discovers the body of a man believed to have been murdered by the IRA some thirty years before. They also turn up a number of other corpses, those of infants, all of whom appear to have suffered from a condition that would have killed them at birth - apart from one, which appears to have been strangled to death.
Detective Inspector Ben Devlin, operating out of Lifford on the border with Northern Ireland, wants to investigate the death of the strangled infant. Unfortunately, the legislation is crystal-clear: any evidence uncovered by the CLVR cannot lead to prosecution.
Devlin, a devout Catholic and a family man, refuses to allow the matter to rest, determined that the infant, and those others buried with it, will not be left in the limbo of the nameless dead …
Brian McGilloway has established a strong reputation in recent years as a thoughtful, intelligent crime novelist whose stories, set on the border - between Lifford and Strabane and the Republic and Northern Ireland, but between old and new Ireland too - are told with a quiet authority.
One of the most interesting features of his novels is that Devlin is the antithesis of the traditional crime fiction policeman, who tends to be dysfunctional, alcoholic, haunted by demons, and a loner.
Devlin, by contrast, is a happily married man with a quiet but strong religious faith, who works well as part of a team, and particularly with his peer on the other side of the border, the PSNI’s Jim Hendry. These characteristics feed into how the Devlin novels evolve: Devlin is doggedly in pursuit of rightness and justice not simply as theories or philosophies, but because he believes that it is in their observance that society functions best.
Naturally, as a policeman, Devlin tends to see society at its worst; as a novelist, McGilloway crafts his stories so that the political is very much personal for Devlin, as various aspects of investigations impact on his own family home, and Devlin is forced to question his own morality. For example, when his daughter is physically assaulted by a teenage thug, everyone - his peers, his daughter, his wife - expects Devlin to break the law in order to revenge his daughter. Can he allow himself do that and still exert moral power in his own home, and in his own conscience?
What sets THE NAMELESS DEAD apart, however, is its subject matter: the fate of the ‘nameless dead’, the forgotten infants, one of which is murdered, gives the novel an elegiac tone, and a poignant one; there were a number of times when I found myself reading with a lump in my throat.
The Ian Rankin-esque title is fully deserved: THE NAMELESS DEAD is one of the most insightful and affecting novels you’ll read this year. - Declan Burke