Review: Blood Ties by Brian McGilloway

It’s been nine years since the last outing for Detective Inspector Ben Devlin, and he’s been sorely missed. In this new procedural, he’s investigating the murder of a convicted killer and rapist, with the evidence suggesting the man was killed by his own victim, twenty years after her death. The part to unravelling this mystery lies in reopening that older case, and pulling up grief for everyone involved. In the process, a mess of online child exploitation and vigilante justice via social media plays out. The grief spills and spreads. And, as has been the case in all the Devlin mysteries, no small portion of that grief is piled directly onto Devlin himself.

This is a book about grief, and transition, and the sanctity of family. Devlin’s stories have always impacted on his own family, and so it is again. Devlin finds himself having to look at his place in the world as a middle-man: being both father and son; being both a senior officer and yet not the boss; investigating crimes in the middle of the borderlands. All these ‘middle’ spaces in his life are shifting, the positions above and below fading in ways he didn’t expect and can’t handle. His father is dying, his superiors and contemporaries are moving on from their roles, those beneath him are changing the way policing is done. His children don’t need him like they did. They parent him. His soft border is growing harder to navigate and he’s forced to recognise which side he actually has power on. This sense of middle-space was always the focus of these books, and it’s a testament to McGilloway’s command of his world that he can dismantle this space so deftly and viscerally. Devlin has always been a character with only tenuous control, and he’s shown no mercy in this latest book, as those few remaining constants are taken from him.

The loss in this book isn’t handled archly; if anything, this is a genuinely sentimental book, but it loses nothing for being so. It’s a sentimental book for McGilloway too, being part eulogy to his own departed father, and imbued with all the love that opportunity affords. It’s also raw, which is appropriate to the crime it describes, and to the time it’s published in. Set at the beginning of the pandemic, it’s peppered with those first experiences of distancing and unrecognised sickness, of our coming apart from one another and the monumental amount of death that was to come. There’s a focus on the touching we no longer indulge in, the shared spaces we can’t have any more, the barriers we now reckon on living with indefinitely seen as they’re just going up. There’s mention in the book of Hamlet: how it’s a play where corruption touches everyone and no one survives it. You see that play out for the characters here, only to realise that it then plays out over you as well.

This is a formidable crime story, with a great plot that handles its twin investigations with masterful economy. But it’s also a brilliant human story, a wise treatise on family, and a powerful release of grief. Timely, compelling, and sure to delight fans of both McGilloway’s series, this is the best book in the Devlin series, and that’s no mean feat.

I cannot recommend this enough.

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