My copy of the second novel featuring Ireland’s Detective Superintendent Colm McEvoy was a gift from the author. It’s official publication date is 12 June 2010 which, depending on where you live, is today or tomorrow.
One Sunday morning DS Colm McEvoy is called to a scene where a young man’s brutally beaten body has been discovered. The DI already there frustrates McEvoy with his unilluminating single-word answers to questions about the case, but the reality is they don’t know who the man is or anything much else about him. Despite having this and several other investigations on his plate, McEvoy is then asked to check into the death of Albert Koch, one of Ireland’s’ wealthiest businessmen. Koch was elderly and his death was signed off as natural by his doctor but a local Garda is suspicious and believes the situation warrants attention by a senior officer. It soon becomes clear that Koch was murdered and McEvoy must investigate the man’s family and his past, thereby opening himself up to confrontation, political pressure and the uncovering of nasty surprises while he juggles all his other work and a fairly tenuous hold on his personal life.
There are things I would like to discuss about this book but can’t do so without giving away plot spoilers which I am loath to do both because it is generally a loathsome thing to do and because I found the story genuinely unpredictable and want you to have the same experience should you choose to read the book. Suffice it to say there is a lot going on within this story both with the various cases McEvoy is responsible for and in his private life. Although the book does jump around between events the structure is logical and the harried, sometimes jerky way that the story is revealed is perfectly suited to the harried, sometimes jerky lives that the under-resourced and badly stretched Irish police force are living.
As was the case with the first book in this series, The Rule Book, there is an almost hyper-realism to the way that police work is depicted here. Forensic answers do not materialise miraculously in shiny laboratories to offer the solution to a baffling case just in the nick of time, police officers do not have the luxury of working on one case at a time even if it is the murder of a VIP and criminals do not always get caught. With the real world economic downturn in Ireland being reflected in the book, the resources of the police are so ridiculously thin on the ground that the criminals have good reason to believe they can get away with anything. At one point some of them take a bold and horrifying action which badly injures one of McEvoy’s colleagues and further depletes the strained police force as personnel are re-deployed to deal with the new crisis.
Like many fictional coppers Colm McEvoy has some personal flaws but they haven’t overcome him to the point where all his actions have become predictable which makes for entertaining reading. It’s probably because I share this trait but I like the fact that even though he knows it’s not going to go well for him he often can’t stop himself from saying the wrong thing in many situations. In this story it has been a year since McEvoy’s wife Maggie died and her sister plans a memorial service which McEvoy is hesitant about attending, preferring to keep his grief and sense of loss private. I can also empathise with being considered odd for this kind of thinking in a world in which living as publicly as possible is considered the norm. So much of the book focuses on McEvoy that most of the other characters struggle to have terribly meaty appearances but there are some terrific scenes with some of McEvoy’s colleagues and his young daughter Gemma offers some nice lighter moments.
Because The White Gallows is so realistic there were times I was uneasy with it, such as when McEvoy seemed unable to grasp that, assuming Albert Koch’s entire family didn’t gang up and kill him Murder on the Orient Express-style, the law-abiding citizens among Koch’s relatives had every right to feel aggrieved at being treated fairly shoddily bu the police during their grief. I’m sure this is a common occurrence in the real world too and it saddens me to think that police are forced, by their experiences and their daily grind, to treat everyone as guilty until proven innocent and that people so treated are unlikely to ever have a positive view of the police force again.
I found The White Gallows a captivating and credible reading experience, though not always a comfortable one as it raised issues that are all too real. Its complexity and unrelenting grittiness reminded me a little of the setting and main character of R D Wingfield’s Jack Frost novels. I heartily recommend it to fans of traditional police procedurals and those who like their tales to unfold with the kind uncertainty that warrants staying awake long enough to read just one more chapter.
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My rating 4/5
Publisher Indepenpress ; ISBN 9781907499371; Length 322 pages
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The White Gallows has also been reviewed at International Noir Fiction (although this review does give away more about the plot than I have done so be warned) and Mack Captures Crime
I reviewed The Rule Book, the first book in this series, earlier this year.
Rob Kitchin has answered the 9 murder mystery questions Craig Sisterson poses to crime writers everywhere on his excellent blog Crime Watch