Written by Brian McGilloway — Detective Sergeant Lucy Black of the Derry police force leads a full and complex life. Her father is suffering the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and has been badly beaten by another inmate at the secure unit he’s currently in. But before she can complain about his treatment a body is discovered floating in the river that passes beneath the unit. Black drags the corpse ashore. It’s an old man, fully dressed and appearing as if he’s been at a funeral.
Investigation shows the old man was dead before he went into the river. Actually he was ready to be buried and had been embalmed. So how did he end up in the river and why?
With the corpse taken away and questions swirling in her mind, Lucy heads home to her father’s house, only to get sucked into a domestic abuse case. One of her neighbours asks for help. His sister’s wife, Fiona, has been badly beaten. Lucy agrees, but she doesn’t declare herself to be police in case it scares Fiona off and makes her return to her husband. Lucy awakes the next day to find she’s landed another case. A homeless man has been found in the compacter of a rubbish truck. He’d been emptied into the truck from a bin he’d been sleeping in. Only it wasn’t the compacter that killed him. The tramp had been beaten up first.
Lucy returns to the case of the floating man. She learns someone was cremated in his place, but all they have left are the ashes and some metal pins and plates. One of the plates is from the skull and it has a large cut in it. Seemingly the person was killed by a blow to the head. With multiple mysteries on her hands Lucy carries on digging and it appears the case of the homeless man and the unidentified cremation are connected. It transpires homeless men have been going missing all over Derry, drawn towards the offer of work by a mystery man in a van. But who was cremated and why was he killed? And how is he linked to Fiona’s husband, the wife beater? What Lucy eventually finds shocks her to the core.
Preserve The Dead is the second novel featuring DS Lucy Black. From the first page she is beset with a series of issues to resolve personally and professionally. Her father has Alzheimer’s, but there’s also the a difficult relationship with her mother, who left Lucy and her father when she was eight and happens to now be the Acting Chief Constable so is ultimately Lucy’s boss. The characterisation is strong. For example, it’s particularly easy to associate with Lucy and her troubles.
The book operates well enough as a stand-alone novel with minimal reference or impact from previous story lines. The only significant element is the tension with her partner Robbie, who was previously injured in a car bomb meant for Lucy. It’s a wise aspect to add, though, as it adds another dimension to her trouble and complex life.
One slight disappointment with the book is the editing. Sometimes the diction is repetitive and there are some mangled sentences. This aside, Preserve The Dead is a very good read and will appeal to anyone who enjoys police procedurals or strong female leads. McGilloway is a rising star in the crime world, and deservedly so.
For more crime fiction set in Northern Ireland, try the Sean Duffy books buy Adrian McKinty.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars