Sunday 24 June 2018

Fitting end to Paula's journey

CRIME: The Killing House, Claire McGowan, Headline, €17

The Killing House by Claire McGowan
The Killing House by Claire McGowan

Breda Brown

Long-buried family secrets are at the heart of The Killing House, the sixth and final novel in Claire McGowan's acclaimed series featuring forensic psychologist Paula Maguire. Specialising in finding missing people, Maguire has worked on some harrowing cases in her home town of Ballyterrin, a fictional border location in Northern Ireland which the author describes as a 'general crossroads of shiftiness, ex-terrorists, and smuggling'.

Maguire's interest in missing people stems from the fact that her own mother disappeared in 1993, when Paula was just 13. Believed to have been taken by the IRA for being a tout, no trace of her has ever been found. Unsure whether her mother is dead or alive, Paula has spent years peeling away the layers of secrets in close-knit Ballyterrin in a bid to find out what happened to Margaret Maguire. In The Killing House, Paula is called in to help the local police force establish the identity of two bodies - a man and a young girl - unearthed during renovation work at an old abandoned farm. Normally tasked with tracing the disappeared, Paula finds herself in the unusual position of instead trying to discover the names of the dead. The team quickly ascertain that the man was an IRA member missing for over 20 years, but the identity of the teenager is a total mystery.

As Paula attempts to find out who the girl is and why she died, an anonymous tip-off claims that her own long-lost mother is also buried on the farm. When another young woman is kidnapped, Paula is up against the clock to find out who is responsible before more lives are lost.

While this is a series, The Killing House works perfectly as a standalone novel, with McGowan recapping the story in a very subtle and unobtrusive manner. It's an extremely satisfying end to a truly engaging sequence of books. A brilliantly woven plot, first-rate writing and excellent characterisation will keep you reading right to the very last page of The Killing House.

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