I bought this book because I was looking to build up my stock of real books (for reading on Shabbat) and decided that it might be worthwhile to look at those contenders for awards. This book was nominated for the 2016 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. (That was also my reason for buying Disclaimer and Time of Death.)
Plot and setting
The scene is Northern Ireland in the 1980s; a time when the troubles are ever present, policemen keep getting killed, sectarian violence abounds, and the country is ravaged from the collapse of the traditional industries.
Detective Sean Duffy is called to the scene of Carrickfergus Castle, where a young woman has apparently jumped to her death. Duffy is not so sure, and thinks she may have been murdered. The problem is that the location is very secure, and apart from the caretaker – a man of advancing years – nobody else was there. And the caretaker for sure didn’t do it. So, is Duffy wrong?
Apart from the natural desire of his colleagues to close the case as a suicide, Duffy has to contend with political realities: one person of interest is a foreign businessman potentially bringing jobs to the area. Nobody wants to put that at risk. One location of interest is a high profile, government supported operation that has been performing wonders. Nobody wants to put at risk either. At the same time, Duffy’s love life is less than complete.
The author constructs a neat locked room puzzle – apparently the second this fictional detective has faced – and wraps it up in some witty repartee, some diverse cultural mentions – Lamed Shapiro* – and a bucketful of historical references to the time and the place. You will meet at least one well known UK personality in this book, and at least one institutional scandal. The whole thing comes together convincingly, and is a rollicking good read.
One minor downside is that this is the fifth book in the series, and if I had known I was going to like it, I would have preferred to read them all in order.
[*If you want to boost your literary standing – not that McKinty needs it, judging by the plaudits his books have received – mentioning Lamed Shapiro is a solid strategy. Check out this short biography. I was interested enough to think about getting some of Shapiro’s books, but current prices are off putting. However, if there’s a rebirth of interest in Lamed Shapiro, Sean McKinty will deserve at least part of the credit.]