Brian McGilloway is on top form with his fourth Benedict Devlin novel, THE RISING. After the broad canvas of the previous instalment (BLEED A RIVER DEEP), THE RISING returns to the classic police procedural – with a believable and satisfyingly convoluted plot that will demand your full attention, with clues and misdirection aplenty. These novels are set in Lifford, the Borderlands area between Eire and Northern Ireland. The shadow of the troubles is never far away, but the public and the police are more concerned these days with rampant drug dealing, which causes communities to fracture in many different ways. Indeed, drugs soon come into the frame with THE RISING, beginning when Devlin is called out to a nearby farm where shots have been heard in the early hours of the morning. When he gets there, he discovers a blazing barn with two people inside. He's able to rescue one of them but is injured himself before he can help the other.
Recovering from his wounds and being sent straight back into the investigation by his gruff yet not entirely unsympathetic boss Patterson, newly promoted in the last book, Devlin and his counterpart across the border, Hendry, soon discover that the dead man, Martin Kielty, had inherited his grandfather's farm in the south and used it to deal drugs. Kielty also had a house nearby over the border, where he lived with his girlfriend and baby daughter. The investigation into Kielty's death is frustrating for Devlin, whose life is complicated by a local political organisation called The Rising, in which a trio of men are inciting people to take the law into their own hands concerning drug dealers. Devlin is deeply sceptical of The Rising, not least because of the previous form of its leaders. He soon comes to suspect that it is a front for clearing out the current dealers and suppliers so that the group's organisers can take over their business.
This plot is but one strand in this satisfying and rounded novel. Caroline Williams, Devlin's old partner who resigned from the police at the end of GALLOW'S LANE to protect her son Peter, calls Devlin for help, distraught because the boy has disappeared while on a camping trip. Devlin's feelings for Caroline had previously almost cost him his marriage, so Debbie, Devlin's wife, regards her husband's involvement with unspoken suspicion. Another aspect of this novel concerns the family dynamics of Devlin, Debbie and their two children Penny and Shane. Penny is a young teenager and is keen to go to the school disco with her first "boyfriend". Devlin finds it hard to accept that Penny is growing up, even more so when he learns the identity of the boy on whom his daughter has a crush. He forbids her to go to the disco, which leads to family tensions and compromises Devlin's objectivity in doing his work, as the boy's father increasingly seems to be a piece of the complex puzzle.
I really loved the plotting in this novel – confident, convoluted and challenging. Brian McGilloway is great at keeping so many balls in the air that even an experienced crime-fiction reader such as me had plenty of surprises in store. He's also not afraid to write about strong emotions and tragedies; the story of Caroline and her own broken family is extremely sad. Finally, I admire the way the author looks at our attitude to crime and criminals. Most of the civilian characters in the novel, Devlin's own wife included, hate drug dealers and sympathise with The Rising's aims, even when the group turns violent. On the other hand, Devlin receives no sympathy for identifying and pursuing the people who are controlling the industry, with their big houses and children at the same schools as everyone else. Once you seem respectable, it is hard for people to be prepared to look behind the facade. In this particular regard, I have hopes that the author will, in future books, pursue the complicated relationship between Devlin and one man he has in the frame for a role in organised crime – but who he has cause to like for other reasons.