Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly – Adrian McKinty

The sixth of the excellent Detective Inspector Sean Duffy series of crime novels set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Although not the best of the books, it’s good and keeps up the generally high standard. (Search on this site for Adrian McKinty to see my posts about the other books in the series.)

This time around, Duffy is dealing with the case of a murder by crossbow. A strange occurrence in a land awash with guns and shooters. And a troubling case whose retelling starts with masked gunmen leading Duffy in to the woods to dig his own grave.

Before that, in addition to trying to find the killer, Duffy has to deal with some major personal issues in his life, police station politics, and close attention from Internal Affairs.

Gritty, realistic, and engrossing, this tale does an excellent job of transporting the reader back to the late 1980s and offering some astute observations on the world as it was.

The only blot is that Duffy is the one fully rounded character. There are occasional sparks of life in his police colleagues, McCrabban and Lawson, but not much else. Duffy is strong enough to carry the book on his own, but this is a focused first person narrative with no respite. It wasn’t a problem for me, but I have heard other readers criticize such books, in my opinion unfairly, for not having a broader reach. To my mind, the humor, the tension, and the infusions of literary and musical points of reference, are more than enough to avoid any suggestion of a one dimensional character or world.

No, this is – to coin a phrase – the full monty, and very highly recommended.

Incidentally, the title is from a Tom Waits song:

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The Cold Cold Ground – Adrian McKinty

After enjoying Rain Dogs, I decided I had to read the rest of the series, this being the first Detective Sean Duffy book.

The setting is Northern Ireland, at the time of the Hunger Strikes. Bobby Sands has gone to meet his maker, and the Troubles are bubbling away with occasional nasty outbreaks of violence. Duffy is posted in the relative backwater of Carrickfergus, where he seems to be managing fine. But the peace is shattered by the discovery of a dead man who may have been the victim of a serial killer. Duffy and his colleagues interact with some of the historical personages manning the ramparts for their respective factions, as they try to work out what is going on.

McKinty’s Northern Ireland backdrop is spot on, while taking care not to detract too much from the story line. The writing is crisp and humorous in places, and yet that may be the one weakness: I thought Duffy’s humor in the face of some of the threats he faced were somewhat incredible. But that minor potential difference of opinion aside, the whole thing was a roller coaster cum page turner that I really enjoyed.

Having Duffy as a Catholic in the largely Protestant setting worked well, as it set up twin conflicts that highlighted his potentially precarious position, and added some heft to his observations. The character is strong, interesting, and thankfully the author avoids giving him any of the super-human qualities that other writers blight their creations with. Duffy is real, believable, and likable.

Highly recommended.

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Rain Dogs – Adrian McKinty

rain-dogs

Introduction

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?

And…

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.

Overall

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.]

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