Bleed a River Deep – Brian McGilloway

BARD Bleed a River Deep is the third in Brian McGilloway's Inspector Devlin series and it seemed a long time since I read the last one.  But not to worry, I was soon into this novel's plot and experienced timely reminders of what had gone before.

"In a safe pair of hands" applies to the author as well as the character Benedict Devlin.  McGilloway provides yet another tale full of plot twists, with Devlin wrestling his conscience as he seeks justice for the victims and takes work home with him, sometimes literally.  The prose is simple, but packs a punch when conjuring up the moment, the emotion, the person.  Take the opening paragraph, for example:

The last time I saw Leon Bradley with a gun in his hand, he was standing in our garden at home.  Only five years old and a little under three feet tall, he had a cowboy hat tipped back on his head, his hair, strands of fine spun gold, hanging in his eyes.  My younger brother, Tom, who was playing the Indian, had taken refuge in our shed, sharpening his plastic knife in preparation for a scalping.

Many of us will remember days like that one.

In the juggling of a number of cases, both Leon Bradley and his elder brother Fearghal re-enter Devlin's life in Bleed a River Deep.   A body is found at the site of new gold mine and it transpires that an archaeologist should be called in: enter Fearghal from the museum.  On the same day the body is discovered, a man unwittingly tries to rob a bank and is killed by Gardai and armed soldier gun fire.  With a fake ID, Devlin has some investigating to do to find the victim's next of kin.  Devlin is also planning a major security operation, as a controversial US Senator is due to visit the gold mine.  Things don't go to plan when Leon Bradley attempts to attack the senator.  Devlin's new boss puts him on gardening leave, but Devlin can't help himself in continuing the investigation…

Reflecting a gem more than gold, the plot is multi-faceted, skilfully played throughout by McGilloway, taking in illegal immigrants and people smuggling along the way.  Hardly anyone proves to be what they first seemed by the end; but in Devlin we trust, if anyone can find out the truth, he can.

The sense of justice in these novels comes from Devlin's thoughts and reactions as well as McGilloway's ability to draw an emotional response from the reader.  Always keeping it simple, he also achieves a heavy tug on the visceral:

We stood beside her* while she viewed the dead man.  She held his hand in her own and stopped the morgue attendant from pulling the green sheet over his face again until she had kissed him on the forehead.  She cradled the side of his head in her hand and rubbed the greying hair of his sideburns with her thumb as she murmured to him words that required no translation.

Bleed a River Deep consolidates McGilloway's previous achievements with the promise of even better to come.  He's in his stride and knows his characters well, but he is never complacent.  In these days of constant media outpourings on corruption at high levels, it is good to read of a man – Devlin, who seeks to do right and to see justice done.  Where Devlin's acceptance of a piece of expensive jewellery is perhaps questionable, as is his wife's wearing of it in a later scene, the ultimate transfer of the piece proved poignant and appeared appropriate.

Bleed a River Deep is not a 400+ page thumper and thank God for that.  McGilloway entertains and makes you think in a concise fashion.  I highly recommend this series.  So if you're aware of this novel and have not read the previous two, I urge you to start with Borderlands and move on to Gallows Lane, before picking up Bleed a River Deep.  Don't come late to the party, whatever you do.

* Quote based on the proof copy read.  The final version in HB included the name of the character which I feel would be a limited spoiler if repeated here.