Saturday 20 July 2019

Books: Storytelling of highest order

Thriller: Preserve the Dead

Class act: Surprisingly, Brian McGilloway, a teacher at St. Columb's College in Derry, has not given up his day job
Class act: Surprisingly, Brian McGilloway, a teacher at St. Columb's College in Derry, has not given up his day job
Preserve the Dead

Myles McWeeney

With seven well-received and award-nominated crime novels under his belt, including a New York Times bestseller and a UK bestseller with Little Girl Lost, it might seem surprising that Derry-born writer Brian McGilloway still does the old day job of teaching English at St Columb's College in Derry.

The father-of-four did take a career break a few years ago but found that he really wasn't spending any more time at the typewriter than he had when he was squeezing in an hour or an hour-and-a-half a day in between work and domestic duties to write his target of 1000 words. He also really missed the kids, the classroom and the craic.

"I really like teaching, and you do feel that you are making a difference. What's more, teaching is a social job and keeps you in touch with the real world."

McGilloway never set out to become a published author. His first book, Borderlands, was written purely for his own entertainment. Always an avid reader of crime novels, he found that many of his favourite detectives were on the way out - Inspector Morse had died, Rebus was retiring and James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux had had a heart attack. He wanted to write something he would enjoy reading himself, featuring a detective he could relate to. And so Inspector Benjamin Devlin was created.

Positive reviews and very encouraging sales figures of Borderlands gave rise to four further Inspector Devlin titles, each more successful than the last.

But in 2011, with the publication of Little Girl Lost, the first of McGilloway's books to feature Derry-based policewoman DS Lucy Black, Devlin has been sidelined for the moment. DS Black is a timely creation - a complex, ambitious young policewoman who struggles to balance her career in an ultra-chauvinistic environment with her duty to an Alzheimer's-stricken father and an estranged mother who happens to be one of her superiors.

Little Girl Lost was intended to be a one-off. However, McGilloway has said, he realised that Lucy had a lot more stories to tell and Preserve the Dead is the third of these stories.

Visiting her father in a secure facility on the banks of the Foyle, Lucy helps pull a man from the water.

He is not only dead, he has been embalmed and is supposed to have been cremated some days before. So whose was the body that ended up in the urn?

To find out Lucy becomes part of a full-scale investigation that focuses on the exploited unemployed and their thuggish exploiters in an economically challenged Northern Ireland beset by continuing political tensions.

Preserve the Dead is storytelling of the highest order from one of Irish crime writing's most unassuming masters.

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