“James Kerr returned to Lifford on a blustery morning in May, shuffling under the heavy clouds that scudded across the sky towards the North. The air had thickened all week, building to an overnight thunderstorm, the tail-end of which now spread itself across the Donegal border into Tyrone.” Weather such as this, at the end of May, presaged a summer of heavy air, the kind that makes it difficult to breathe. It was an atmosphere that suited the release of James Kerr from prison as well. James had been granted early release because he had found his way to religion; getting out early for good behavior was James’ reward.
Kerr had spent eight years of a twelve year sentence in a prison in the North for his part in a bank robbery. He was hired to drive the getaway car because of his skills as a driver, the best at racing along the borderlands. He never saw the three men who went into the bank, although he was sure he knew at least one of them. After the robbery, the three men left Kerr in a car on the north side of the border, shot and wounded but not killed. He was more than willing to tell the RUC that he was sure that one of the men was Peter Webb but nothing came of the information and Kerr went to prison.
Detective Inspector Benedict Devlin is told to keep an eye out for Kerr since the police were sure he would try to come to Lifford upon his release. He wasn’t welcome in the republic; his presence could cause a great deal of trouble. When Devlin finds him walking along the road, he agrees to drop Kerr off at a bed and breakfast so that Kerr can fulfill a promise he made to the chaplain at the prison. Kerr needs to complete his return to God by meeting with someone so that he can bestow forgiveness. Once the meeting takes place he will return to the north, never to cause trouble on either side of the border again. Devlin takes him at his word.
Sure that Kerr has been taken care of, Devlin is assigned to the murder of a young girl found beaten to death, her body dumped at a building site. Devlin forgets about Kerr as he investigates the murder of the girl, focusing on a body-builder known for his use of steroids.
When Peter Webb is found hanging from a tree, Devlin realizes he has made a mistake in forgetting about Kerr. Was Webb the man Kerr had to forgive? The question becomes moot when Kerr is found crucified on another tree. Devlin and his partner, Caroline Williams, have to take a very close look at the robbery that led Kerr to jail. As they narrow the field of possible suspects, Devlin receives a condolence card at his home. The message is clear: Devlin’s family is in danger if he continues to investigate the bank robbery.
Kerr’s release from prison is the catalyst that forces the details of the robbery at the bank in the North back into the light of day. Two of the men involved are dead. At least one of the others is responsible for those acts. To complicate matters to an even greater degree, Special Branch begins to show interest.
Brian McGilloway writes novels that capture the reader immediately. He handles the complications of the relationship between the North and the Irish Republic realistically. They are separate countries and, since the Easter Accords of 1998, the enmity that existed since the Easter Rebellion of 1916 has all but disappeared. The Celtic Tiger became the economic success the North wanted to emulate. That the Tiger is now toothless is no reason to return to the bad old days of indiscriminate killing on both sides.
The first Inspector Devlin Mystery, BORDERLANDS, is an excellent book and it is not necessary to read McGilloway in order of publication.