Brian McGilloway- The Rising/The Nameless Dead

When Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin is summoned to a burning barn, he finds inside the charred remains of a man who is quickly identified as a local drug dealer, Martin Kielty. It soon becomes clear that Kielty’s death was no accident, and suspicion falls on a local vigilante group. Former para-militaries, the men call themselves The Rising. Meanwhile, a former colleague’s teenage son has gone missing during a seaside camping trip. Devlin is relieved when the boy’s mother, Caroline Williams, receives a text message from her son’s phone, and so when a body is reported, washed up on a nearby beach, the inspector is baffled. When another drug dealer is killed, Devlin realises that the spate of deaths is more complex than mere vigilantism. But just as it seems he is close to understanding the case, a personal crisis will strike at the heart of Ben’s own family, and he will be forced to confront the compromises his career has forced upon him…

I had originally set out to review the latest book from Brian McGilloway, ‘The Nameless Dead’ but to my delight (slightly tinged with shame) realised that somehow I had missed out on reading ‘The Rising’ despite having devoured the other books in the series, so two reviews for the price of one…

Ostensibly the plot revolves around a community action group ‘The Rising’ who are seeking to eradicate the stranglehold on their neighbourhood of local drug dealers. However, this group is led by a small band of men who have less than savoury pasts and who are actually seeking to strengthen the grip of one major drug dealer, the outwardly respectable businessman Vincent Morrison, by disposing of the competition. Morrison is a nemesis to our moral yet maverick detective Devlin, who soon gets to the root of this conspiracy but also finds himself embroiled on a personal level with Morrison due to the growing relationship between Morrison’s son John and Devlin’s daughter Penny. Penny is approaching the devilish teenage years apace and all the seeds of rebellion are wonderfully sown as Devlin comes into conflict with his daughter over this youthful dalliance ultimately leading to a gripping emotional drama at the conclusion of the book putting Devlin’s familial relationships at the very heart of this novel.

This book also sees the reappearance of Devlin’s former colleague Caroline Williams who has always had a special place in Devlin’s heart in the previous will they, won’t they plot lines. There is heartbreak for Caroline with the senseless death of her teenage son Peter and through the actions of Caroline’s ex-husband we see her pushed to her emotional limits and Devlin has no other option but to become more involved. This story line is particularly well realised and really tugs on the reader’s heartstrings as Caroline is such an empathetic character and depicts the loyalty that Devlin has to those closest to him outside of his police role.

Brian McGilloway’s books are always a wonderful combination of fictional drama blended with an adherence to factual history but I felt this book in particular marked a slight departure in style from the author. Indeed, what struck me most about the book was how emotionally fraught it was in comparison to the rest of the series and how, through the interlinking plot lines, the theme of family was so prevalent, amongst the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ characters which made this book resonate with the reader on a much deeper level. A great read.


‘You can’t investigate the baby, Inspector. It’s the law.’ Declan Cleary’s body has never been found, but everyone believes he was killed for informing on a friend over thirty years ago. Now the Commission for Location of Victims’ Remains is following a tip-off that he was buried on the small isle of Islandmore, in the middle of the River Foyle. Instead, the dig uncovers a baby’s skeleton, and it doesn’t look like death by natural causes. But evidence revealed by the Commission’s activities cannot lead to prosecution. Inspector Devlin is torn. He has no desire to resurrect the violent divisions of the recent past. Neither can he let a suspected murderer go unpunished. Now the secret is out, more deaths follow. Devlin must trust his conscience – even when that puts those closest to him at terrible risk . . .

‘The Nameless Dead’ opens with the continuing search for ‘The Disappeared’ ( the undiscovered bodies of those informers etc who have died during ‘The Troubles’) on a small island midway between the North and South and formerly associated with cross border smuggling. Whilst the search revolves around uncovering the body of a certain Declan Cleary, a number of corpses are found linked to a former mother and baby home on the mainland, all displaying signs of physical deformities and having appeared to have died in suspicious circumstances. The story then spirals out further into an investigation of an illegal baby smuggling operation and the link between all these strands to a seemingly respectable property developer whose father had carried out drug trials at the aforementioned mother and baby home with disastrous consequences. One of the major strengths of McGilloway’s writing is his vice-like grip on plot development as all the disparate threads are wound together into a seamless whole, so at no point as a reader are you led to false and unbelievable plot turns. McGilloway always stealthily avoids the over-reliance of some crime writers on the frankly lazy plot device of coincidence, so in conjunction with his strong factual detail and research the plots are always plausible and I always seem to learn something new about Irish history with every book which is an added bonus.

Following on from ‘The Rising’ we are also witness to the trials and tribulations of Devlin’s personal life as Penny continues to wreak havoc with Devlin’s position as a cop and his son Shane starts to show the first signs of rebellion that his daughter is becoming so accomplished at. I really enjoy these very natural portrayals of the family unit which always seem to impact in some way on the central plot but feel unforced and add another level to the novel.

Married to this we again have a good solid depiction of Devlin as a marvellous combination of the moral yet maverick detective getting himself into scrapes again and as one of his colleagues drily remarks, “ He’s not a good cop. He’s a walking disaster. I only hang around with him to see what he’ll do next.” which perfectly sums up Devlin’s uncanny knack to not only always be involved in the thick of it but to also manage to annoy his superiors at every possible turn. However, contrary to his colleague’s tongue in cheek comment, Devlin is a good cop and McGilloway makes us realise this through the skill of his writing and by his solid characterisation of Devlin. A good series that just gets better and better….

Visit Brian McGilloway’s website here:

Petrona’s  review of ‘The Nameless Dead’ can be found here:

  Book review: The Nameless Dead by Brian McGilloway.

(Thanks to Macmillan for supplying a reading copy of ‘The Nameless Dead’)




  1. This author is on my radar and I can’t decide whether to try him as I have so many other books to read at the moment. You clearly think highly of the series so maybe I should give him a go. I presume I can start with this book? If I have to go back to the beginning I doubt I shall bother.
    I’m enjoying reading Irish crime fiction writers at the moment. I particularly like Adrian McKinty who is a recent find for me.

  2. There’s just so many good Irish crime writers. Glad you’ve discoved McKinty and with Stuart Neville, Declan Hughes, Ken Bruen et al and new kid on the block Matt Maguire, there is a wealth of talent to explore. I can relate to the pressure of time for reading but you really should seek out the first in McGilloway’s series ‘Borderlands’ and see what you think… 🙂

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