Bad Blood by Brian McGilloway

3 Mins read

There is an impressive sweep to this novel that raises the deeply divisive social issues of racism and homophobia while throwing in a dash of Brexit to spice the mix. If that wasn’t enough it does all this against the backdrop of a Northern Ireland where the recent anguish of the Troubles is never far beneath the surface. McGilloway doesn’t do cosies.

Bad Blood is the fourth book in the DS Lucy Black series and begins with a man found dead, his head caved in, in a Derry park. On closer inspection the team find a stamp on his hand from a local nightclub. The club, Paradise, had a gay disco on the night the man was killed and fears of a hate crime are quickly aroused. DS Lucy Black is assisting on the case with her boss DI Tom Fleming from the Public Protection Unit. They soon start delving into the troubled neighbourhood of Greenway in a tense week in the run-up to the Brexit referendum in the summer of 2016.

The Lupei family have been threatened with anti-Roma slogans daubed on their house. Tensions are running high. Amongst this toxic mix the local pastor, James Nixon, is preaching a homophobic message to his congregation. His approach is, as his son Jimmy puts it, rather Old Testament. Nixon would have no problem with a death by stoning for a gay man.

Adding to the confusion for Lucy is the interference of a paramilitary, Charles Dougan, as a power struggle for control of the drugs trade bubbles under the surface. The shadow of the Troubles and old style paramilitary justice including ‘six-packs’ – a bullet in each knee, elbow and ankle of a transgressor – still looms over the city.

Lucy has her own domestic concerns. She has a lodger, Grace, who was homeless and used to work as a prostitute. In addition, Lucy’s mother, Jane Wilson, is her assistant chief constable. Her mother left her father when Lucy was eight and he is now confined to a home with advanced dementia. Lucy’s cool relationship with her mother plays out in the course of the story. She also clashes with some of her own team as their own homophobic prejudices are inflicted on colleagues.

Given the storm clouds that Brian McGilloway amasses on the horizon the social issues are not laid on as thickly as I was expecting. They are certainly not rammed down your throat in this novel. They are there as mood music, constantly playing in the background. There are a number of members in the police team and the characters on the Greenway state come thick and fast. As a result they are not always drawn in great depth and you may find yourself slightly adrift with the characters at points.

The writing is spare but effective. The book comes in at around just over 300 pages and so it is slightly shorter that many crime novels these days, but it suits the story well. There’s no sub-plot filler here to thicken he spine. Any larger and it would have dragged. The chapters are short, rarely amounting to more than five or six pages, and it keeps the pace of the story fast.

McGilloway delivers a solid police procedural and it is steeped in social conscience. It is densely plotted with the author pulling all the strings with confidence. There is no doubting the moral values of Lucy Black, but McGilloway stops well short of this becoming a preachy polemic. He knows how to raise the issues but he leaves them there for our digestion. There is no force-feeding of his political views. This being the fourth book in the series, Lucy Black is well-established as a strong female lead. McGilloway is equally established as a highly effective storyteller.

If you are looking for more crime fiction set in Northern Ireland try Stuart Neville or Adrian McKinty. A book raising equally contentious current issues is Love Like Blood by Mark Billingham.


CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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