The heart-stopping follow-up to Brian McGilloway’s thrilling debut, Gallows Lane continues the compelling series that captures modern Ireland and showcases a striking new voice in crime writing.
In his critically acclaimed debut, Borderlands, Brian McGilloway opened a window onto modern Ireland through the eyes of Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin, drawing comparisons to John Connolly and Ian Rankin for his tight, fast-paced plotting.
In Gallows Lane, the Donegal summer dawns unusually hot, and Inspector Devlin returns to the borderlands separating the North and South of Ireland, waiting for a notorious ex-con, James Kerr, to return home on early release. Kerr claims to have found God while in prison, but the superintendant of police wants him to stay on the other side of the border.
When a young woman is found beaten to death on a building site in what appears to be a sexually-motivated killing, Devlin is distracted from his assignment of keeping tabs on Kerr. Enquiries into the murder soon point to a local bodybuilder and steroid addict. But days later, the born-again ex-con Kerr is found nailed to a tree—crucified.
Increasingly torn between his young family and his job, Devlin is determined to apprehend those responsible for the murders before they strike again, even as the carnage begins to jeopardize those he cares about most.
Taking its title from the name of the road down which condemned Donegal criminals were once led, Gallows Lane is a sharp, modern thriller; a stunning second installment in what John Connolly says is “set to become one of the great series in modern crime fiction."
About the Author
BRIAN MCGALLOWAY teaches at St. Columb’s College, County Derry, Ireland. Gallows Lane is his second novel in the Inspector Devlin series.
Read an Excerpt
Sunday, 28 May
James Kerr returned to Lifford on a blustery morning in May, shuffling under the heavy clouds that scudded across the sky towards the North. The air had thickened all week, building to an overnight thunderstorm, the tail-end of which now spread itself across the Donegal border into Tyrone.
As Kerr passed the border service station from Strabane, he struggled to control the multicoloured golfing umbrella he carried, which the wind had snapped inside out, cracking the thin metal spokes like a bird’s broken wings.
A carload of teenagers from the North sped past him, steering deliberately through the widening puddle at the roadside at just the right moment for the spray to hit Kerr, instantly darkening his trousers, the water in the car’s wake misting in an iridescent arc. Perhaps the thudding of the wind popping the material of the umbrella drowned out the sound of laughter from the speeding car, but it could not disguise the hand gestures the occupants made from the rear window. They must have seen me then, sitting at the border in a Garda car, for they slowed down and fumbled to put on their seat belts. I radioed for someone to keep an eye out for them, then lit a cigarette and waited for Kerr to reach my car.
I had never met Kerr before, though I recognized him from the mug shot I had been given by my superintendent, Olly ‘Elvis’ Costello. The photograph had been taken a decade earlier, when Kerr was really just a boy. His hair had been thick and curly, the fringe hanging over his eyes, resting on the frame of the penny glasses he had worn. He had attempted a sneer for the camera, but it was clear from his eyes that he was terrified. His face was puffy with lack of sleep, his pupils were wide, the whites yellowed – with exhaustion, presumably. His skin was clear, without a hint of the stubble or beard growth one associates with arrest photographs.
I turned my attention from the picture, which I had tucked inside the sun visor, to the man himself drawing alongside my car. Since the picture had been taken he had lost weight. His hair had been shaved tightly, revealing an oddly shaped skull. He still wore glasses though they were dappled with rain and I could see him squinting past them towards the car. I rolled down the window as he drew abreast.
‘James Kerr?’ He nodded, but did not speak. ‘Welcome home. Can I give you a ride someplace?’
‘No, thank you,’ he said, as his umbrella thudded inside out once again.
‘Get in the car, James,’ I said, starting the engine.
He paused, as if considering the offer, glancing up and down the road. Finally, he opened the back door of the car and flung his blue canvas bag on to the seat. He straightened out his umbrella and laid it on the floor as if not to wet the upholstery, then he closed the door and got into the front passenger seat.
‘I’d rather not sit in the back of a police car again for a while,’ he explained, removing his glasses which had begun to steam up.
‘Whatever you like, James. My name’s DI Devlin. I don’t believe we’ve met.’ I extended my hand to shake his but he had begun to wipe the rain off his face. He ran a hand over his scalp as if to slick back his hair, then he flicked the gathered moisture onto the floor of the car. Smiling apologetically, he wiped his hand on his trouser leg and shook mine, weakly.
As he was sitting up front, I could smell the dirt of his unwashed clothes and the staleness of his breath. His jeans had been pale blue at one stage but were badly stained now and darkened where the rain and puddle water had soaked them. He wore a yellow skinny-rib T-shirt under a grey woollen cardigan. I could tell from the smell that he hadn’t been drinking at least, which was unusual for a man who had just been released from prison. But then, James Kerr was an unusual character.
Kerr had been involved with the local Gardai most of his life. When he hit adolescence he was fairly regularly lifted for some petty disturbance: stealing sweets, then cigarettes; breaking windows; letting down tyres. Anything to get himself noticed, I suppose. He had a reputation for mouthing off when questioned and, on one occasion, he spat in the face of an officer called to a local shop where he had been caught trying to steal a woman’s weekly magazine, of all things.
The situation reached a low for James when he took a shine to a neighbour’s seventeen-year-old daughter, Mary Gallagher. Their blossoming relationship seemed to keep James on the straight and narrow right up until the day, just a week shy of his sixteenth birthday, when he discovered that Mary was his half-sister, the product of one of his father’s clandestine affairs. Things became further complicated when it transpired that Mary was pregnant with James’s child and, in the manner of parochial Irish towns countrywide, the girl was sent to live with an aunt in England and James became the wandering protagonist in his own personal Greek tragedy.
Kerr’s mother, having broken free from her husband, then started an affair with a teacher from Strabane, whose son was at school with James. James graduated from stealing sweets to sniffing glue and joyriding cars along the back roads between the North and South. Eventually he wrapped one of his stolen cars around an oak tree on the back road to Clady and broke his wrist. He was banned from driving for ten years and, had he possessed a licence, it would have been revoked. He should have been fined but, as his barrister argued impecuniosity, James was given community service instead and had to tend the flower beds around Lifford for three months.
Finally, Kerr had been more seriously injured fleeing the scene of an armed robbery just over the border and had been arrested by the RUC, the law in the North before the Police Service of Northern Ireland was established. He had served almost eight years of a twelve-year sentence before allegedly finding God and, the Friday previous to my meeting him, had been freed early for good behaviour.
All of this Superintendent Costello had explained to me that Sunday morning in his office. Costello had received word from the PSNI that Kerr had been released from Maghaberry Prison. Since then, Costello had posted someone on the border waiting for Kerr to appear – which he finally did.
‘I don’t want Kerr coming back here, making trouble, Benedict. If he arrives, convince him to stay back on the Northern side of the border, eh?’
‘What’s he done?’ I asked.
‘Found Jesus apparently; that’s why they let the wee shite out.’
‘Maybe he has,’ I suggested.
‘I doubt it,’ Costello said. ‘If Jesus knew Kerr was looking for Him, He would’ve hid. Kerr’s bad news, Benedict.’
And then he’d explained the background of the case to me. Protesting his innocence throughout his trial and subsequent incarceration, Kerr told his parole board that the first thing he would do upon release was to atone for his past sins, through reconciliation, as the Bible had taught him.
Listening to Costello describe it, I could understand why he didn’t want him on our side of the border. Chances were he was lying, which made him the kind of trouble we just didn’t need.
‘So, do all ex-cons get this reception, Inspector, or is it just for me?’ Kerr said, holding his purpled hands in front of the hotair blower, which I assumed to be a request for heat. I obliged, while pressing the in-car cigarette lighter.
‘Isn’t that illegal here, or something?’ Kerr asked, gesturing towards my cigarette.
‘Yep,’ I said. In fact, in the Republic it’s almost impossible to smoke anywhere. For some time now it has been illegal to smoke in a place of employment. If you want a cigarette after dinner in a restaurant you have to go out and stand on the street, usually with the chef who prepared your meal. A Garda car is considered a place of work, but then who was going to arrest me? I lit up and blew the smoke out of the window, away from my passenger.
‘I see you’re travelling light. Just home for a visit, Mr Kerr?’ I asked.
‘Is that a question or a suggestion?’
‘Just making conversation, actually,’ I said, my hands raised in mock surrender. ‘Have you any family left in Lifford?’
Kerr smirked. ‘I’m guessing that you know I haven’t. Is there any particular reason for the welcoming committee?’
‘We’re just concerned, James – for your safety and for others’. ’
‘I’m not going to hurt anyone. I need to see somebody.’
‘Anyone in particular?’
‘Yes,’ he replied, then turned down the heat and put his hands in his cardigan pockets. ‘Are we going anywhere in particular, or are we just going to sit here?’
‘Where can I leave you, Mr Kerr?’ I asked, starting the car.
‘There’s a B&B out at Porthall.’
‘I know it.’
‘That would be great.’
While we drove we spoke about a number of things to do with the area. Kerr commented on how much had changed since he had left and expressed distaste at the design of some of the newer buildings.
When we arrived at the B&B, he reached back for his bag and umbrella, then turned to face me.
‘Don’t worry about me, Inspector. I won’t cause any trouble. I need to get something off my chest, something my reverend says I need to do. Then I’ll be out of here. No one needs to fear me any more.’
‘Does this something involve either robbery or revenge?’ I asked.
‘Neither. I’m not going to hurt anyone, Inspector. I promise you.’
‘I’ll have to take your word for it,’ I said. ‘Please don’t make me regret it.’
‘Thanks for the lift. God bless you.’ With that, he got out, slammed the door and pushed through the wind up the driveway of the B&B where, he had told me, he was booked for the week.
As I cleared my stuff out of the car later, and tried to air out the smell of smoke, I found a religious tract which Kerr had left in the compartment on the passenger side door, entitled ‘Turn from Sin and Trust in Me’. Stamped on the back was the name and address of a Reverend Charles Bardwell from Coleraine. I almost crumpled the sheet up, then reconsidered and left it where it was, lest its message should be of some interest to the car’s next occupant.
That evening, Debbie took the children to see her parents and I was left behind to wash Frank, our one-eared basset hound.
I had just finished towelling Frank dry when Costello phoned. Ostensibly he was checking how things had gone with Kerr.
‘Did he say what he wants here?’
‘I get the impression he’s looking for some kind of catharsis, you know. I’m not wholly sure, to be honest.’
‘Bullshit, Benedict. I’ve known Kerr since he was a wee’un. His father came to us once complaining that someone was breaking the windows in his glasshouse. Went on for months, a pane of glass every night or two. Turned out it was Kerr himself, ticked off at his old man for not buying him some toy or other. He was nine then. Take my word for it, he’s bad news. Keep an eye on him.’
‘Yes, sir, I will,’ I said.
‘Just best we keep an eye, Benedict.’ I could hear his stubbled chin rasp across the receiver, his breath fuzzing on the line. ‘How’s the family?’
‘Good, good to hear. Very good.’
He seemed to be forcing good humour but I could sense from the vagueness of his questions and comments that he had something deeper troubling him.
‘Is everything all right, sir?’
‘Fine, Benedict.’ He paused and something hung between us like the static before a lightning storm.
Finally he continued. ‘I … I handed in my notice today, Benedict.’
While we had all suspected that Costello would retire in the near future, most of us believed he’d see it through to his sixtieth next year.
‘Jesus, sir. I’m sorry to hear that,’ I said, assuming from his tone of voice that ‘Congratulations’ was not appropriate.
‘Effective from the end of June,’ he said, as if I had not spoken.
‘Why?’ I asked. ‘I mean, why so soon, sir? Wouldn’t you hold on for another year?’
‘My heart’s not in it any more, Benedict,’ he said. ‘Not since the business with Emily.’
Costello’s wife had been murdered a few years ago during a spate of killings linked with the disappearance in the 1970s of a prostitute with whom Costello had been having an affair. ‘I understand, sir,’ I said.
‘I’ve told the kids, you know. They think it’s for the best.’
‘Any plans, sir? Taking up fishing, maybe?’ I attempted levity, but without reciprocation.
‘They’re compiling the promotions list for a few new Supers for the region, I believe,’ he said. ‘In fact, they’ll be interviewing by the middle of next month, so …’
I had an inkling where this was going. ‘So?’
‘Make sure your cap’s in the ring, Benedict,’ he said.
‘I hadn’t really thought about it, sir,’ I said, almost truthfully.
‘Well, think about it now,’ he replied sternly.
‘Yes, sir,’ I said. ‘Thank you – I will.’
Although he did not speak, I could sense a change in his tone; his breathing lightened a little. Finally he said, ‘I wanted to go out on top. I wanted to go out with a success, you know?’
‘Okay, sir,’ I said.
‘Mmm,’ he murmured, as if reflecting on an unspoken thought. Then he said, ‘See you tomorrow, Benedict,’ and the line went dead.
GALLOWS LANE. Copyright © 2008 by Brian McGilloway. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y 10010.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Superintendent Costello directs Garda Detective Inspector Benedict Devlin to warn convict James Kerr as he leaves Maghaberry Prison to not settle in Lifford. Kerr refuses to speak with Devlin insisting he only is coming to town to forgive his former partner Peter Webb, who with others betrayed him during the Castlederg robbery that sent James to prison. Soon afterward, someone kills Webb whose wife was with her lover Decko O'Kane at the time of the homicide. Kerr was allegedly seen nearby, but Devlin thinks the case is too obvious. He is proven right when Kerri is crucified followed by the murder of Decko. Devlin believes the robbery is the link between the deaths; if he can solve that he can solve the serial killing of those who were involved. The DI has other cases to work too that prove pressure laden to resolve. Inspector Devlin in his second whodunit (see BORDERLANDS) makes this Irish police procedural so good even when he struggles with anxiety and panic attacks while his spouse and his long time partner Carline Williams beg him to back away from this case that is mentally crippling him. However, the DI cannot; instead he feels compelled to work even harder at this and other cases. Readers will feel root for the hero as he tries to keep his ethical compass steady in spite of the trouble he faces doing it. Harriet Klausner
This is the second book in a new police procedural series by Irish crime writer Brian McGilloway. The series features An Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin - a policeman in the borderlands between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The first book in the series was Borderlands and it was a decent first outing. Sometimes the second book lags behind the first, but that is not the case with this one. If anything, Gallows Lane is a better book.This books contains hidden evidence, death threats, and an unexpected rivalry as Devlin works to solve some intertwined murders and to work out for himself whether he wants a promotion to Superintendent. The crime writing is smart and effective and the characterizations deepen (as does the sense of place). This is a book about struggle of all kinds and about the sometimes sad consequences of struggle. Ben Devlin's an interesting character and I look forward to getting to know him better as the series progresses.My one criticism of these books is that while it's refreshing to see a cop who is a happily married father, Devlin's wife and kids get sort of short shrift as characters. I'd like to see them developed more and made an actual part of his life rather than incidental moments.All told this was a great whodunit. Can't wait for the next one!
second book in series by Brian McGilloway featuring Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin stationed on the border of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. you might expect given the location that paramilitaries may feature and they do but mainly in the past tense as they have now become respectable (?) businessmen. Devlin is different to most crime fiction detectives as he's happily married with children but as what appears to be relatively straight forward case degenerates quickly to cover assault, murder and crucifixion which does not nothing to help his promotion chances or to alleviate the panic attacks he's been suffering following threats to his family. A decent character in a difficult situation and certainly enough to maintain interest in the next instalment.
A very well written and tightly plotted novel set in the borderland area between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, with investigations led by Garda officer Benedict Devlin.Devlin is an unusual protagonist for a series of police procedurals - he is simply too normal! No quirky tastes for Wagner or fine claret, no drink problem, no broken family! Eyt he is immensely plausible despite all that!As with the first novel in this series, the murders come fairly fast and furiously, each with its own particular grimness, though the violence does not seem gratuitous, and Devlin's normality permits him to be as appalled as the relatives of the victims. Similarly, Devlin is not above personal fear, and succumbs to debilitating panic attacks when his own family is threatened.All in all a marvellous successor to "Borderlands" and I look forward to reading the next instalment in this admirable series.