McGilloway, Brian - 'The Nameless Dead'
THE NAMELESS DEAD by Brian McGillloway is the fifth in his series featuring devoted family man and Garda police inspector Ben Devlin, set on the southern side of the Irish border. At the beginning of the book, Devlin is present at a dig by the Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains on a nearby island, Islandmore, searching for the body of Declan Cleary, following an anonymous tip off. Cleary was a young man rumoured to have been a tout (informer) for the RUC, who disappeared in the 1970s. The Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains, is a real life institution whose role is to locate the bodies of a group of people (the Disappeared) presumed to have been killed prior to 1989 but whose bodies have never been found. The Commission's legal basis is that no prosecutions can arise from evidence they uncover, and that there can only be limited forensic examination of any remains found.
Islandmore is in the middle of the River Foyle, on the border between Northern and Southern Ireland, and was a venue for smugglers, and tragically, a burial place (cillin) for unbaptised babies. When the body of a baby is found during the dig, who appears to have been a murder victim, Devlin is told he cannot investigate further, even though the incident appears to be completely unrelated to the Troubles. As a devoted father, Devlin refuses to abide by this advice, and finds that the baby had been born with Goldenhar syndrome, a rare and disabling condition. As well as pursuing this unauthorised investigation, Devlin is soon busy with other matters. After Cleary's son, Sean, gives an interview to local television about the dig, havoc is unleashed. There are more killings of those involved with Declan Cleary and Islandmore, as despite the legal immunity from prosecution, someone still doesn't want to risk exposure for the events around Cleary's disappearance. Devlin also has to deal with goings on at a half-finished nearby housing estate, where empty houses are used for nefarious purposes, and a grieving mother claims to be able to hear a baby crying on a baby monitor, although there are no new parents on the estate.
THE NAMELESS DEAD is well written and well plotted, with the various strands of plot deftly handled and brought to their inevitable connection and conclusion, and casts an interesting light on the political and economic concerns of contemporary Ireland. Devlin remains a sympathetic and realistic character. He avoids the stereotypical familial/alcoholic dysfunctions of fictional coppers, and tries to steer a moral course in his private and professional lives as best as possible. The domestic element of issues relating to his wife and children, and his struggles to balance family life with the demands of murder investigation are subtly handled. As in earlier novels in this series, there is a strong local flavour to this book with the border region almost being a character in its own right, with the usual mix of criminality and bureaucratic loopholes that can be exploited by criminals. This is a very elegantly written, almost elegiac book, with a tangible sadness throughout, as we see the grief of several characters who have experienced the loss of a child, either through unnatural causes during the Troubles or due to illness before/during birth. THE NAMELESS DEAD is one of the best books I have read this year, and would be a good entry point to this series, due to the strength of the plotting, and as only limited references are made to the earlier books.
Read another review of THE NAMELESS DEAD.
Laura Root, England