Along with the Lincoln Perry novels from Michael Koryta, Brian McGilloway’s Inspector Devlin series is the rare middle-boiled series that the Nerd eagerly follows. McGilloway’s tight plotting, sense of place, and spare prose are all a draw, but naturally what keeps me coming back is Devlin himself, an achingly human and recognizable character rarely glimpsed elsewhere in the genre. With his third entry in the procedural series, Bleed a River Deep, McGilloway smoothly (though at one key point, rather ambiguously) adds some new wrinkles to Devlin, yet sadly slips up in the plot department, ultimately making it a disappointment when compared to the rock solid shit that came before in Borderlands and Gallows Lane.
Like the previous two novels, Devlin has a few seemingly unrelated cases to deal with that eventually turn out to overlap. He looks into the death of a man killed while robbing a bank to find that he is a Chechan illegal immigrant whose wife, Natalia, owes money to the ruthless thugs who helped her and her husband sneak into Northern Ireland. While trying to ensure her safety and bring down the human traffickers (while, as he is an Irish garda and not in the Police Service of Northern Ireland or PSNI, being out of his jurisdiction), he is also heading up the security of a controversial US politician visiting the new goldmine in town. When an attempt is made on the life of the diplomat, Devlin finds himself on suspension. When the shooter turns up dead, he takes an off-the-clock interest that, with a little digging, turns up a major conspiracy involving the diplomat, the human traffickers, and the corporation behind the goldmine.
What works best in Bleed a River Deep is what is done to deepen Devlin throughout the book. He fucks up big time left and right, letting the wife go missing while under his care, flubbing his security duties, and generally being a few steps behind the whole game in countless way. McGilloway is ever careful not to have Devlin be a supercop at any point. He’s smart but not insanely so, he’s no action star in the slightest, he only tests authority so far, and he’s not the hard-drinking ladykiller you expect in such a role. He’s a thoughtful father and husband and devout Catholic whose job can take over his life sometimes but never in any way that could truly strain his family life. He’s out for redemption in Deep because of his fuck-ups but he’s not willing to necessarily do the wrong thing to ensure justice, though a shooting late in the book is very ambiguous and is fucking *hopefully* followed up in the next book.
But while much is fresh and “right” about the approach to Devlin’s character, the plot this time out strayed a bit too “big” for your dear old Nerd. This one definitely falls into that “this shit goes all the way to the governor’s mansion!” level of corruption that you’ve heard me rail about before, where the plot is just too massive and convoluted to really care that much about the outcome at some point. Yeah, I’m glad that it never turns out that somehow the old college buddy character turns out to be behind everything in the end – that would have been way too obvious – but I wish there was at least something sort of small scale and personal there to give a shit about. McGilloway’s novels have always been intricately plotted, but this one takes it out there just too far for, not believability per se, but certainly in terms of actual stakes. I guess I just expect a bit more (sigh) “organicness” from this series than a whole pollution/politician/corporation bullshit-like-that story. Granted, the actual fallout of the story is handled very well, with the major players untouchable and the ones below that barely touchable, but still, I expect more from McGilloway at this point.
Obviously, the book is not a total waste in the slightest. If you’re up for a far better than average middle-boiled police procedural, this shit will do the trick like few books out there. But if your interest in looking into this series is to see what McGilloway does different from his fellow middle-boiled writers, Bleed a River Deep is far from the place to start.