The Last Crossing by Brian McGilloway #BookReview #BlogTour

Tony, Hugh and Karen thought they’d seen the last of each other thirty years ago. Half a lifetime has passed and memories have been buried. But when they are asked to reunite - to lay ghosts to rest for the good of the future - they all have their own reasons to agree. As they take the ferry from Northern Ireland to Scotland the past is brought in to terrible focus - some things are impossible to leave behind. 
In The Last Crossing, memory is unreliable, truth shifts and slips and the lingering legacy of the Troubles threatens the present once again.

I'm absolutely delighted to be hosting the blog tour for The Last Crossing today. My grateful thanks to Brian McGilloway and Emily from The Dome Press for inviting me and for sending an advance copy of the novel.

One of the greatest privileges of book blogging is discovering new to me authors, The Last Crossing is the first book by Brian McGilloway I've had the pleasure of reading but it definitely won't be the last. I have a particular fondness for novels with a dual timeline but I don't remember one done better than this, with the clever, seamless links between past and present creating a moving and engrossing study of a small group of people brought together during the Troubles in the late 80s and then reunited thirty years later, still haunted by their memories of what they did.
The book opens with a murder, execution style but this isn't a crime novel as such; any desire for justice of a sort comes later and is personal rather than seeking retribution in a court of law. Three people are present when Martin Kelly dies but only one, Hugh appears to have killed before. He is brutally efficient and exacting in his instructions for the other two, Tony and Karen who follow his directions obediently. It soon becomes apparent that whatever occurred between them to lead to this point resulted in them not seeing each another for decades. The older Tony is clearly still tormented by his previous actions yet unable to confess his sins to his priest, admitting only that he has done things he's not proud of. Recently widowed, his apprehension at being forced to relive the history he shares with Hugh and Karen is tempered by his curiosity as to how it will feel to see them both again, especially Karen with whom he had a short-lived but intense love affair.
As with many historical conflicts, when peace is agreed there eventually comes a desire for answers and a willingness to provide them, whether from a genuine wish to atone for past sins or for less altruistic, often political motives. The storyline follows Tony in the past and present and it's through him that we gradually discover both how he came to be involved in murder and why the three have separately agreed to return to Martin Kelly's resting place in Scotland. They each have their own reasons and while it's easier to sympathise with Tony and Karen  - whose story in many ways mirrors his, reinforcing the ease at which ordinary people can be recruited into terror groups - Hugh's presence is ominously riveting, his fury almost palpable at times.
The lingering legacy of the Troubles ensures there is always a sense of foreboding to The Last Crossing but it also means that this is a nuanced character study which recognises that there were multiple reasons behind the violent acts perpetrated by both sides and few were left entirely untouched. A family tragedy leaves Tony vulnerable to persuasion and coercion; he is actually a likeable young man but his confused emotions and naivety means there is a sad inevitability to the lonely path he finds himself on. Perhaps the most poignant aspect to this compelling story is that the shadow of death which looms over all the characters is as divisive as it is uniting. That a needless death will mean people will seek revenge isn't surprising and it's painfully evident here that retribution and anger leads to a depressing cycle of violence and murder. The psychological scars are explored too; the personal and those which become legacies, both of families and the wider communities.
The ever-present sense of fear is captured with an authenticity which means The Last Crossing is almost unbearably tense to read at times and is a stark reminder that Scotland, separated from Ireland by just a short crossing shared the religious and political divides and experienced the violence and bereavements of the Troubles too. There's a scene where Tony is asked whether he supports Rangers or Celtic and with it there is the grim acknowledgement that allegiance to one or other of these clubs may signal more than just loyalty to a football team. As events begin to spiral out of what little control he may have thought he still held, there comes a moment where it all becomes almost too painful to read. The ferocity of belief in a cause is difficult to witness, particularly because the violence that occurs here represents the many atrocities inflicted during those long, dark years of terror and bloodshed.
The Last Crossing is a powerful exploration of a recent past which remains a part of society's collective memories, perceptively understanding that those recollections will be flawed, formed as they are through a person's individual experiences and beliefs. Despite the sombre subject matter, the writing is absolutely beautiful, vividly capturing the emotions and the sense of time and place. With recent political developments potentially threatening the Good Friday Agreement and the rise in populism and nationalism, there has perhaps never been a greater need for this thoughtful, complex, important novel. An outstanding read which will remain with me, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

In these strange times, it's become a little harder at times to buy books but it's more important than ever to support independent publishers. The Last Crossing can be purchased directly from The Dome Press website or buy the digital copy from Hive and help independent bookstores, if you are unable to buy from them directly at present. Of course, it can also be ordered from Waterstones and Amazon too.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

Brian McGilloway is the New York Times bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Inspector Benedict Devlin and DS Lucy Black series. He was born in Derry, Northern Ireland in 1974. After studying English at Queen’s University, Belfast, he took up a teaching position in St Columb’s College in Derry, where he was Head of English until 2013. He currently teaches in Holy Cross College, Strabane.

His first novel, Borderlands, published by Macmillan New Writing, was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger 2007 and was hailed by The Times as ‘one of (2007’s) most impressive debuts.’ The second novel in the series, Gallows Lane, was shortlisted for both the 2009 Irish Book Awards/Ireland AM Crime Novel of the Year and the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2010. Bleed A River Deep, the third Devlin novel, was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of their Best Books of 2010.

Brian's fifth novel, Little Girl Lost, which introduced a new series featuring DS Lucy Black, won the University of Ulster's McCrea Literary Award in 2011 and was a New York Times Bestseller in the US and a No.1 Bestseller in the UK. The follow-up novel, Hurt, was published in late 2013 in the UK and Ireland by Constable and Robinson and was published in the USA under the title Someone You Know. The third Lucy Black novel was published in 2015 in the UK and Ireland as Preserve the Dead and in the USA, under the title The Forgotten Ones. Bad Blood, the fourth in the Lucy Black series, was published in May 2017. His tenth novel and first standalone, The Last Crossing, will be published in Spring 2020.

In 2014, Brian won BBC NI's Tony Doyle Award for his screenplay, Little Emperors, an award which saw him become Writer In Residence with BBC NI. He currently has a number of screen projects in development with BBC NI.

Brian lives near the Irish borderlands with his wife, daughter and three sons.
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  1. I got here from your list of best of 2020, an interesting list.

    Your review has frustrated me Karen, it reminded me of a very funny comic thriller about a policeman in Northern Ireland and I can't for the life of me remember what it was called or who wrote it, or truth be told what it was about.

    All I can honestly tell you is it wasn't Divorcing Jack

    I must be getting old or senile or both.

    I will have to but this one to make up for it :)

    1. It’s so frustrating not to remember a book. I hope the title comes back to you - let me know if it does. Hope you enjoy The Last Crossing, thanks for reading my review :)


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