Headline | 2018 (5 April) | 336p | Review copy | Buy the book
The Killing House is the sixth and, I believe, final novel in Claire McGowan’s series about forensic psychologist Paula Maguire. Everything that has happened in previous novels comes to a head here and, although you could read it as a standalone, I think you really do need to have read at least some of the other books first. Because this is when the great mystery in Paula’s own life is brought to a close. Paula’s job is to help police find people, including the Disappeared who vanished during Northern Ireland’s Troubles. Paula’s mother Margaret was among the Disappeared. For years Paula has searched for the truth. Now she just might find it. If you’ve read any of the earlier books you’ll know how this search has dominated not just Paula’s life but also those of so many people around her.
Two bodies have been found in an abandoned farmhouse – one is a well-known member of the IRA who disappeared in 1993 and the other is a young girl. Both have been murdered but, whereas the man was thrown in his grave, the girl was carefully placed. 1993 is a key year for Paul Maguire. This is the year in which her mother vanished and the clues – as well as rumour – suggest that the Wallace family who used to own the farmhouse may have had something to do with Margaret’s disappearance. Paula is now based in London but she is back in her old hometown in Northern Ireland for a wedding. The timing is perfect. She’s soon on the case and there isn’t one person who doesn’t know how personal this is for Paula, her father, the man she loves, her child, for all of them.
I’ve now read and enjoyed four of the six books in this series and I have no hesitation in proclaiming The Killing House my favourite. There are several reasons for this, not least of which is my need to know what happened to Paula’s mother. This has been a shadow hanging over the books from the beginning and I’d reached the point where I think we had to find out the truth. In the previous books there have been other cases as Paula carries out her job but this time there is a focus and intensity which I found entirely gripping.
This novel is extremely tense and, at times, quite harrowing. It presents a plain speaking and insightful depiction of the Troubles and their legacy, a timely reminder of what the situation used to be like as well as how delicately poised the peace is. Deaths still happen. People still disappear. Claire McGowan’s discussion of how policy has affect Northern Ireland’s policing is especially fascinating and it is made all the more real and shocking because of our invested interest in Paula’s happiness – and safety.
The last novel, Blood Tide, was a bleak novel in many ways for Paula and in The Killing House we see elements of this intensified. There is such a strong feeling of everything reaching a climax in The Killing House and this mood is created and sustained brilliantly by Claire McGowan.
Claire McGowan is such a fine and thoughtful writer. She blends together an accessible picture of the repercussions and issues of Northern Ireland’s recent history while focusing on a few individuals that we’ve grown to care about very much. It’s almost painful watching them go through this. There is hope, as represented by Paula’s little girl, but so much stands in the way of it. The conclusion, I’m so relieved to say, is a perfect one in lots of different ways, evoking conflicting emotions. This series has never been an especially easy read for me but it has always been rewarding as well as compelling. I’ve consistently felt drawn to it. The Killing House is a wonderful conclusion and is also, in my opinion, the finest of them all.