McGilloway, Brian - 'Little Girl Lost'
The child sat hunched against the tree trunk, her knees drawn up against her chest, the thin cloth of her pyjama top stretched over her kneecaps. Her hair lay flat against her head, lank strands plastered to the porcelain skin of her face. Her lips were almost blue, her teeth audibly chattering as she attempted to control her breathing.
On the dark, icy road through the woods near Prehen, a milkman sees something pale moving through the trees as he wrestles with his float skidding on the ice towards the kerb. He climbs down from the float with his spade and stoops to dig the snow away from his tires. But he shivers with fear when a small figure steps out from the tree trunks. A young girl with pale skin and wet hair, dressed only in pyjamas, stands and stares at him. Then she disappears back amongst the trees. In the same early hours of the morning Detective Sergeant Lucy Black is wakened from sleep by her father who is standing at the door of her bedroom wearing a grey suit over his pyjamas and carrying a suitcase. Lucy leads him back to his bed and again he calls her "Janet". Later Lucy's sleep is interrupted again. Her Chief Superintendent phones to tell her to get moving in response to a call out to the woods where they think they have found a missing girl, Kate McLaughlin. But the young girl that Lucy finds amongst the trees, mute and crouching in the snow, is too young to be the missing sixteen-year-old. What is more it seems to Lucy that no-one is bothered about this girl whose pyjama top bears the name Alice. Kate McLaughlin, daughter of a prominent local businessman remains the priority. When forensics find traces of blood spray on Alice's clothes and hands, Lucy is determined to trace the girl's family; to uncover what act of violence she has witnessed; to unearth the event that has shocked Alice into silence and left her wandering in the icy woods.
Brian McGilloway is already the author of a successful crime series set in the Irish borderlands featuring Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin - that most unusual of police protagonists, a man with a stable and happy family-life. But increasingly drawn to writing about a place and situation that he felt was impossible for the Garda officer and "family-man" Devlin to explore, McGilloway chose to write a standalone book and to establish a new protagonist, PSNI Sergeant Lucy Black. LITTLE GIRL LOST is the result and its story revolves around crimes of abduction and murder with roots that extend into the violence and corruption of Derry's past, the era and place of Lucy's own childhood. Lucy Black's family is police through and through. Her father, now ill with Alzheimer's, is an ex-RUC man. His estranged wife and Lucy's equally estranged mother is Lucy's own boss, the Assistant Chief Commissioner of Police. This last is a fact that Lucy hopes to keep under wraps as it will do her working reputation no good if her relatively new colleagues find out that her mother is "the Boss". Life is not easy for Lucy and her heart goes out to the mute young girl that she finds wandering in the woods. Empathy for the girl is Lucy's trump card. Anyway, it is so much easier for Lucy to spend her nights in the hospital reading to Alice than to be at home watching over her increasingly difficult and confused father. In an interview with "Bookgeeks" McGilloway says "...there are a number of lost girls in this book - and Lucy is the main one".
In McGilloway's LITTLE GIRL LOST, as with Stuart Neville's "Jack Lennon" series one gets a view of the violent political history of Northern Ireland enmeshed with crime and corruption that reach forward into the current events of the novels. But whereas Neville's graphic writing and adrenalin pace propels you through the dirty underbelly of a political war, McGilloway's LITTLE GIRL LOST presents an altogether quieter tale. To all intents and purposes it is a "police procedural" but McGilloway still tells a dark and disturbing story, well-observed, subtly written, absorbing and steeped in the damage done by the factional wars of Derry's streets. The good news is that McGilloway now plans to return to DS Lucy Black and the setting of his own native Derry. LITTLE GIRL LOST is likely to be a standalone no more.
Read another review of LITTLE GIRL LOST.
Lynn Harvey, England