Book review: The Dead Ground by Claire McGowan

Northern Ireland’s troubled past has a habit of casting a long shadow over any work that comes from the pen of an Ulster writer…

The Dead Ground by Claire McGowan
The Dead Ground by Claire McGowan

And the fresh young voice of Claire McGowan is no different. The Dead Ground is the second book of her dark and acutely observed Paula Maguire crime series featuring a forensic psychiatrist who operates in the dangerous Irish borderlands.

McGowan’s blistering 2013 opener, The Lost, introduced us to the disturbing and often brutal work of the Missing Persons Response Unit, and left readers in no doubt that this was both a series to savour and an author with a powerful and eloquent vision.

With an armoury that includes compelling insights into a fractured society, scenes of shocking violence and moments of soaraway emotional intensity, McGowan certainly knows how to pierce our hearts and minds.

Forensic psychologist Paula Maguire is based in Ballyterrin, a small town in Northern Ireland’s border country, an area which ‘bleeds’ into the South. Paula has led a turbulent life but, pregnant and unsure who the father might be, she is now facing a terrible dilemma.


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So when the missing persons unit calls on her to help find out who has snatched a baby from the local hospital, the case proves particularly painful for her.

The abduction of the baby boy is soon followed by the horrific, ritualistic murder of a woman, found in a stone circle with her stomach cut open. The killing indicates that there may be a connection to the kidnapping and Paula knows that they will have to move fast if they are to find the person responsible.

When another child is taken and a pregnant woman goes missing, Paula finds herself caught up in a deadly hunt for a killer linked to religious fanaticism and determined to leave no trace of the crimes.

From this point on, every decision she makes, whether professional or personal, really will be a matter of life and death...


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The Dead Ground is a breathtakingly dark story which digs into the murky depths of Ulster’s violent history, providing a sinister dimension to a crime mystery involving abductions, religious strife and murder, and adding impetus to Paula Maguire’s own personal legacies.

McGowan is an exciting, edgy writer… she captures time and place with chilling precision and is adept at portraying the conflicts between the political and the personal, strength and vulnerability, the past and the present and the needs of the individual pitted against the demands of a community.

A clever and compelling plotline, a complex heroine, emotive themes and a menacing backdrop prove an irresistible combination in a crime series that is moving into top gear.

(Headline, paperback, £7.99)