Scooped by Nancy Pearl!
Reviewed by Seana Graham
When I first thought about writing this up back in December, it seemed like a pretty original idea. I’ve been a fan of McKinty’s work since I happened upon it several years ago, and have often tried to brainstorm ways to champion it, as I think his fiction deserves a wider audience. What better time to introduce readers to the first of what has become known as “The Troubles Trilogy” than a month or so before the third book, In the Morning I’ll Be Gone, is due out?
Unfortunately for me, though not for McKinty, Nancy Pearl of NPR fame beat me to the punch. She used it as the first example of her “picks from the past” feature just the other day. Pearl said that finding books for this program wasn’t really that hard because she pulled the books from her own shelves. She also said that those shelves hold only those titles she intends to keep.
This one’s a keeper for me too.
The story takes place in and around Belfast in the spring of 1981. Bobby Sands has just died in the famous Maze Prison hunger strike, and across the Irish Sea, preparations for a royal wedding are well under way. Margaret Thatcher is still running the show. Detective Inspector Sean Duffy has recently been transferred to Carrickfergus, a small, coastal, and largely Protestant town—far enough from bellicose Belfast to have small town concerns but close enough to frequently get drawn into the fray anyway. Duffy is an outsider in more ways than one—not only is he the token Catholic policeman in a Protestant force, he’s also a university man who has forsaken the academic life for policing after a bombing of civilians led him to decide that he couldn’t remain on the sidelines.
Meanwhile, life goes on, including crime. After a couple of murders, it seems that a serial killer may be targeting gay men, but Duffy is leery of jumping to conclusions. As in the television series Foyle’s War, community policing can sometimes feel a bit incongruous in the midst of a war, and perhaps even more so here, as Duffy and his colleagues are also ordered to put on riot gear and engage in the battle from time to time.
McKinty grew up in Carrickfergus and was a child in these environs at the time the novel is set. He uses his memory of the era in a wonderfully evocative way. Dark times, true, but there is much dry humor and also, surprisingly, beauty. Personally, I enjoy McKinty’s deeply engrained skepticism about the motives of people serving ‘the cause’ on both sides of the conflict.
Many people have applauded the audio version of this series, as read by Gerard Doyle, so if you like to listen to your books, I encourage you to check that out. As for me, I’ve got my own version of Sean Duffy in my head, and I’m not kicking him out any time soon.