Monday, January 5, 2009

BORDERLANDS by Brian McGilloway

Alright, so before you say jack-fucking-shit, up-in-my-fucking-grill reader, lemme just say this: Yeah, I fucking well realize that McGilloway's debut novel Borderlands doesn't fit the site all that well. Good it sure as fuck is, but hard-boiled/noir it sure as fuck ain't.

The hero is flawed but all in all a good guy, the language is usually pretty tame, there's some sex but nothing too graphic and, until the climax, the violence is primarily off-screen, as they say. And yeah, it's sorta your traditonal police procedural mystery where the detective pulls back the layers and peels at the paint until - oh my god! - this shit goes all the way to the big boys in power!

But you know what? It's good. So fuck you, purist readers. Good cuts the mustard fucking well enough this time out for the Nerd of Noir. Besides, it's about time I reviewed something my mom might enjoy (though thinking about it, she's a big Koryta and Lehane fan so I guess I've already covered that base).

Borderlands is set in the last days of 2002 in a small town near the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland (hence the title, how about that shit?). A teenage girl's nekkid body is found, the cause of death not apparent. The murder case, a rare thing for the local PD, falls on the shoulders of Inspector Ben Devlin, a family man who - like any decent small town cop - seems to know everybody in his normally happy little hamlet. But he's barely into the investigation before another young person is killed. If you don't think the two cases are related, you are easily fooled, retarded reader.

I pose a question: What is society's fascination with murdered or missing women?

Nah, I'm just fucking with you. If the Nerd wanted your opinions he wouldn't have formed his own - no doubt completely correct - opinions already.

Okay, so the mystery plot is solid and sound, everything connecting and complicating and involving like the best mysteries do. This bitch is complex and it moves. If that's your bag, you won't get pissed when you wrap this one up.

But, not that the Nerd traffics in cliches or nothin', but a series is only as good as its main character and Ben Devlin is pretty damn good. He's just a decent guy - yeah, he wants to fuck this rich bitch something awful but, you know, he doesn't so he's a decent guy. Loves his family, doesn't get drunk, gets boners but doesn't ruin his life over them, is honest with his wife most of the time. An average decent guy who is good at his job but not some kind of superman or "the dogged detective who will stop at nothing to pursue justice." He's just a decent guy with a job to do. Basically, he's a good man to have as your narrator, to have as the anchor of a new series.

Then there's the setting, which is also damn fine. McGilloway's depiction of small town Ireland feels real, lived-in, sharp. This is not a bunch of leprechauns dancing a spirited jig in the cobblestone streets nor is it nothing but dark alleyways and smoky pubs. This is small town life in the then just emerging New Ireland, a sometimes awkward mix of the traditional and the startlingly new. Also, there are travellers (gypsies or tinkers to my racist readers, roma or sinti to my p.c. readers) in the novel and I never get enough of that culture clash shit.

So yeah, if you like mysteries, McGilloway's Borderlands is the start of what will no doubt be a really good long-running series. He can unravel a mystery plot with the best of them, his Ben Devlin is a wonderfully real guy, and he's got a great sense of place.

You bet your ass I'll read the next Devlin.

See? Even the Nerd of Noir can't turn down a good mystery - even one such as this that doesn't involve the detective shooting an unarmed bad guy in the face or anything awesome like that - when it's done exceptionally well.

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