Author of the Month

Name: Brian McGilloway

First Novel: Borderlands

Most Recent Book: Hurt

'‘Hurt’ is a rip-roaring page turner. '

It is ten days to Christmas and on a cold night the body of a sixteen year-old is found on a train line. Her throat has been cut and her body placed in such a way that if a train had passed over her then it would have looked like suicide. The girl was known to social services and had a history of self-harming. Then another girl goes missing and through the girls’ mobile phones, DS Lucy Black finds that someone who knows how to manipulate the Internet, and more importantly, young, vulnerable girls and has been grooming his victims for many years without being detected.

Throughout these ten crazy days DS Black will be at the fore of the investigation, whether she’s supposed to be there or not. She will come up against a gang bent on revenge, see two paedophiles die and try to survive her own mother’s attempts to bring her back in to line.

‘Hurt’ is the follow up to the phenomenal eBook best seller of 2013, ‘Little Girl Lost’. I loved ‘Little Girl Lost’ and thought it was an extremely strong start to a new series. So, how does the follow-up, ‘Hurt’ compare? Well, let me just say that it certainly had me gripped and the book was not put down until finished at one in the morning.

Many in the crime fiction genre know of the huge controversy in 2012 about sock puppetry and people hiding behind several fictional personas. Here, McGilloway uses this for a far more insidious motive than leaving anonymous or fake reviews on a well-known retail website. This time they are used to bait and attract young girls who have low self-esteem issues and can be easily enticed in to a vicious web by predators of persuasive means.

McGilloway does not use the girls involved as mere plot devices and you can sense that the severity of the crime and the abhorrent guile used by these people is something that McGilloway portrays in his novel. I also felt through the writing that McGilloway knows about these lost children who suffer fractured lifestyles, broken homes, uncaring parents who are themselves victims and punish their own children with their demons and so the cycle continues.

DS Black appears to be even more of a maverick than she was in her debut. Her mother, the ACC tries her hardest to bring her daughter back in to line, but you do get a sense that DS Lucy Black does appear to believe that she and she alone form the local constabulary. There is a touch of the impossible about Lucy’s ten days of mayhem, but McGilloway can be forgiven due to the gravity of his plotline. However, I suggest that he tries and calm Lucy down a little in the next book.

‘Hurt’ is a rip-roaring page turner. I picked the book up and only laid it down when finished several hours later. My eyes bleary but I felt replete as I had watched a very creditable rolling film in book form. I hear that this series has already been optioned and I will certainly be looking forward to seeing that on the small screen. So will ‘Hurt’ be just as big as a phenomenon as ‘Little Girl Lost’? I believe it is definitely worth being as successful, if not more so, than its predecessor.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) Why did you choose crime fiction as the basis for your novels?
I was, first and foremost, a crime reader, so applying that love of the genre to my own compulsion to write seemed an obvious next step. Having grown up in Northern Ireland, where so often the lines between lawmakers and lawbreakers have been blurred, and where the concept of justice itself is a cause for debate and disagreement, crime seems the perfect genre in which to explore that society.
2) DS Lucy Black first appeared in ‘Little Girl Lost’ in 2011. What prompted you to take a break from your Benedict Devlin series and write about a female detective?
The story came first with ‘Little Girl Lost’. I wanted to write a type of fairy tale, about a child lost in woodland pursued by a sinister figure. A psychologist friend of mine had once told me about how fairy tales are used to help identify forms of trauma suffered by younger children. The victims are offered a range of fairy tales and asked with which they most identify. Their choice will often reflect the form of trauma or abuse that they have suffered. So I wanted to write a fairy tale of sorts where the lead detective sits with the child in hospital at night reading stories to her. One of the stories, unwittingly on the part of the detective, elicits a reaction from the child and offers an insight into what has happened to her. I knew that, with his own family to look after, that detective would not be Devlin. I also knew that the detective would have to be a woman. Rather than another middle aged officer with a world of experience, I wanted to start at the beginning with someone who isn’t even really sure if she wants to be in the police at all. And I didn’t want someone who would be carrying the baggage of the old RUC from the Troubles, so I went with someone young, just starting out. Hence, Lucy. The fact that, at the time, my wife and I had our first daughter, called Lucy, after three sons, may have had something to do with it too.
3) Normally a detective is embedded in CID but you transferred Lucy to the PPU (Public Protection Unit) which deals primarily with children affected by crime. Why did you place DS Black in this department?
Again, I wanted to do something different. With Devlin, I saw no point in creating another alcoholic divorcee maverick – crime fiction has enough of those already. Likewise too, I liked the idea of exploring another aspect of detective work in the police with a focus on the lost, the vulnerable. The PPU deals with all vulnerable individuals, so children primarily, but also domestic abuse cases, the homeless and so on. I suspect it was also a way of avoiding having to bring the Troubles too much into the books, but rather have the shadow of them hanging over the cases rather than central to them. I also figured that working in something like the PPU would take more of an emotional toll on the detective as hopefully illustrated by the ending of ‘Little Girl Lost’, an event which will echo throughout the entire series.
4) Both of the DS Black books have dealt with crimes against children (and in ‘Hurt’ there is still the search for Alan Cunningham from the previous book). As a father of four, do these crimes against children affect you more and are they difficult to write?
Hurt was very difficult to write. I suppose with ‘Little Girl Lost’, the double genre conventions of crime and fairy tale allowed a degree of distance. With ‘Hurt’, I did find myself being much more careful about what I wrote and how I dealt with the issues involved, not least because, when I first developed the idea I was advised not to write it, as, I was told, the grooming of children in care was an inappropriate topic for a male writer to examine. In the end, Lucy Black will go to whatever extreme required to protect children from those who would exploit them. As a father, I can understand that completely. That said, at risk of becoming repetitive, the next Lucy book isn’t about children at all but focuses instead on vulnerable adults.
5) Were you surprised by the huge reaction to the eBook version of ‘Little Girl Lost’ earlier this year, selling over 300,000 virtual copies? How do you feel about the eBook phenomenon?
I was shocked. The book had been out for almost two years by the time that happened. I was extremely lucky that people supported the book in the way that they did and responded so positively to it, and for that I’m hugely grateful. In terms of e-books, I think they are another medium through which readers engage with narrative and, for me as a writer it provided an alternative platform for my book that allowed it to reach a readership that it had not managed to reach in its previous two years in print. Personally, I prefer to read a printed book rather than an e-book. More importantly, I do think that there is an obvious issue that needs to be addressed over the difference between price and value with regards the pricing of e-books but, in an age when so many people download music and movies for free rather than paying for them, the issue of the value of the arts involves more than just books.
6) ‘Hurt’ deals with the murder of a sixteen year old. You tackle the issue of youngsters being vulnerable to others on the Internet. What drew you to this new ground for predators as the basis of this novel?
Strangely, the sock puppet debate in Harrogate a year ago, which happened around the time I was starting this book! I’d always had the basic idea for the book; I’d once heard a police officer talk of how a groomer he’d arrested had identified his victims. He walked around shopping centres looking for teenage girls. If he saw one who appeared self conscious in some way, he would approach her and say ‘You’ve very pretty eyes.’ If the girl smiled, or thanked him, or told him to get lost, he walked on. If, however, the girl looked to the ground or got embarrassed by the compliment, he guessed that she had self esteem issues and was therefore more likely to be susceptible to grooming. He would then begin the process of befriending them. I was already developing that basic idea, then the whole sock puppet thing opened up a new aspect to the idea of people pretending to be someone they are not. Considering how much time kids spend looking at screens, whether computers, tablets or phones, it seemed an obvious area to examine in the book.
7) Lucy’s mother is the ACC for her Division. They have a very patchy past to say the least. What inspired you to create this relationship and are we going to see more dynamics between daughter and mother in future books?
I just liked the idea of Lucy’s mother being her boss and, instead of nepotism being a concern, it’s actually the opposite. I enjoyed writing their scenes in the first book very much and they do share some page time in ‘Hurt’, too. The two will be central to all the Lucy books and I suspect that, as they progress, Lucy will learn that apples don’t fall far from trees.
8) You had your main characters Benedict Devlin and DS Lucy Black meet up in a specially commissioned short story for BBC Radio 4. Many writers say they would never have their main characters from different series meet up. Why did you decide to go against tradition and how did you feel when the two met up? Will it be an experience you are willing to repeat?
No, it was a one off which I very much enjoyed doing. Two different TV companies have optioned the two series, so I can’t really cross over too much without making things complicated. The story this year was written as part of the City of Culture 2013 celebrations for my home city of Derry and it just seemed like a nice opportunity to have them meet. They do inhabit the same fictional universe anyway; anyone who had read the Devlin books before ‘Little Girl Lost’ may have recognised the officer Lucy meets in Strabane. In fact, in the first draft, the book ended with Lucy calling Devlin asking him to keep an eye out for Alan Cunningham, but it seemed a little too gimmicky and would have restricted the following Devlin book to focusing on that case too, so I changed it.
9) What are you planning for your next novel?
It’s another Lucy book. When an apparent suicide victim is pulled from the River Foyle, Lucy is shocked to find that the victim is already embalmed. Investigations reveal that the dead man's cremation has taken place, with an unknown victim in the dead man's coffin. On the same day, a homeless man, a Polish builder who has been left destitute with the collapse of the building boom, is found crushed to death in a rubbish compactor. It all takes off from there.
10) What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
Oh, it’s hard to identify only three. I’d have to say Ian Rankin’s ‘Black and Blue’, James Lee Burke’s ‘Sunset Unlimited’, and Umberto Eco’s ‘The Name of the Rose’.

Close behind would be Colin Dexter’s Morse novels, Wilkie Collins’ ‘The Moonstone’, David Guterson’s ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’, Peter Hoeg’s ‘Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow’, Michael Connelly’s ‘Angel’s Flight’ and John Connolly’s ‘The Killing Kind’. The list could go on…