The Last Crossing by Brian McGilloway.
Brian McGilloway’s much anticipated new novel, The Last Crossing, is a stand alone story set in Northern Ireland and Glasgow. The story unfolds over over two time frames three decades apart; the depths of The Troubles and the present day. A murder at the height of the conflict comes back to haunt three former IRA comrades as they return to the scene of their crime in Scotland, (a literal journey reflecting on the march of time and the things that have happened in their lives in the intervening years). Tony, Karen and Hugh are forced to confront their role in the callous murder of their comrade Martin Kelly thirty years before. Kelly was stripped, shot and buried in a forest outside Glasgow. IRA chief Sean Mullen has brought the trio together again for the first time since they left the scene of the killing so that they can retrieve Kelly’s body for the family as part of the peace process. The Troubles are long over, the peace is holding, The Good Friday Agreement was signed over two decades ago but, still, this is a delicate matter. This is an attempt to heal the wounds of the past and give the family some ‘closure’. These wider world implications and concerns are always in the background but this is very much about the three comrades. The people they were at the time of the murder and how they have carried that with them over the long years. Rather than heal the scars the trip lays bare old wounds and agendas. Time and the desire to forget may have distorted memory but the full truth about the murder was never known to them all anyway – that truth is about to fracture the present.
The Last Crossing focuses on an issue that blighted the republican community during The Troubles, “the disappeared”. Catholics kidnapped, murdered and buried in unmarked graves as traitors, spies, informers, or for simply falling foul of the Provisionals. As three of the bodies of the sixteen were never recovered this issue continues to scar the peace process and remains a thorny subject. McGilloway always centres his novels around a weighty issue and faces his characters with an ethical dilemma. This elevates his novels, The Last Crossing is a really good thriller but it has a deeper meaning, it has gravitas and real world credibility and is all the more chilling for that. This novel is deeply rooted in place and time.
The Last Crossing is a step away from the familiar police procedural oeuvre cultivated by McGilloway in his two series; Benedict Devlin (2007-2012) and Lucy Black (2011-2017). That said, there’s the same depth of character portrayal even though the protagonists are killers. The psychological insight enables the reader to get a sense of what drives ordinary people to kill, to explain not condone. To see how they change/stay the same, (the character arcs), as time and events move on, is fascinating.
The Last Crossing is an engaging read, totally gripping, morally complex, nuanced and compassionate. The novel is steeped in the violent history of Northern Ireland but also says something of the post conflict world, the new attitudes to peace and life. Nonetheless it has a haunting atmosphere that reflects the real issue of the disappeared of The Troubles. Craftily plotted, elegantly structured and well written, this novel is infused with a sense of melancholy as it explores grievances, injustice, loss and the possibility of atonement. The Last Crossing is a journey worth making.
Dome Press, paperback, ISBN 9781912534340, April, 2020.