Late December. A sixteen-year-old girl is found dead on a train line. Detective Sergeant Lucy Black is called to identify the body. The only clues to the dead teenager’s last movements are stored in her mobile phone and on social media – and it soon becomes clear that her ‘friends’ were not as trustworthy as she thought.

Lucy is no stranger to death: she is still haunted by the memory of the child she failed to save, and the killer she failed to put behind bars. And with a new boss scrutinizing her every move, she is determined that – this time – she will leave no margin for error.

Following the phenomenal success of Little Girl Lost, the first thriller featuring DS Lucy Black, McGilloway returns to her character in his new release Hurt. Despite me being a huge fan if the Inspector Devlin series, I must confess that somehow McGilloway’s alternative series had escaped my radar, so this is my first foray into Lucy Black’s world, and a thoroughly riveting and enjoyable one at that.

There is more than enough reference to the events of the first book for the new reader to be quickly immersed in the harrowing events that Black has experienced, and which have shaped her character, both in a personal and professional sense. What the reader quickly perceives is that Black is an extremely committed and focused police officer, even if she does become slightly too personally involved in her cases at times, but fulfilling the classic edict of all great detective fiction, has a rather unsettled personal life in the wake of a failed relationship. Refreshingly though, she is not aided and abetted by the failings of her personal life by being either sexually promiscuous or befuddled by drink and drugs, but instead immerses herself in an emotive investigation where damaged young girls in the care system are procured for sex, resulting in murder. McGilloway really taps into Black’s increasing bewilderment at the sheer disregard shown for these vulnerable girls, by the men (some of them in positions of trust or power) that use and abuse them, and embarks on a single-minded mission to gain justice on their behalf, drawing Black into extreme personal danger. McGilloway once again demonstrates his superlative skill at pace and plotting, increasing the feeling of danger at a steady pace to a truly nail-biting last few chapters. This, in tandem, with the superb characterisation of both Black herself, and her colleagues, in particular her immediate boss, DI Tom Fleming, who has an interesting story of his own within the plot, and Black’s difficult relationship with his replacement, makes for a powerful and gripping thriller. The reader is immersed throughout in Black’s personal narrative, but in addition McGilloway perfectly conveys the less than pleasant aspects that lurk below respectable society, that powerfully unsettle the reader but which are integral to the overall theme of the book, focusing on the abuse of vulnerable young people in society, and the role of individuals like Black in bringing the perpetrators of such crimes to justice. A striking read with a great female protagonist that kept me hooked throughout.

Brian McGilloway was born in Derry, Northern Ireland, in 1974, and teaches English at St Columb’s College, Derry. He lives near the Irish borderlands with his wife and their four children. He is the author of six previous crime novels: Little Girl Lost, The Rising, Bleed A River Deep, Gallows Lane, Borderlands and The Nameless Dead: www.brianmcgilloway.com

(With thanks to Constable & Robinson for the ARC)

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