The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

January 25, 2014


May, 1981. Northern Ireland. Bombs, assassinations, torture, hunger strikes, riots. Sectarian violence is the clean label the journalists slap over the ugly and complex brutality known gently and woefully as The Troubles. If you're present, you're involved. There's no escape short of emigration. And it's not as simple as Catholic vs. Protestant, or Irish vs. English, or police vs citizens. Because it's all of that and more. It's rich vs. poor, man vs. woman, gays vs. straights, expectations vs. reality, loyalty vs. betrayal. It's duality in everything, every person, every situation. And author Adrian McKinty captures it all, in a luxurious clarity of language and reasoning that are both intelligent and easily followed.

In Sean Duffy, a  young detective sergeant in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, McKinty has created a fascinating character: Duffy is Catholic, a rarity in the 1981 RUC (and perhaps still today for all I know), who buys a house in a Protestant district because that's the house he wants and can afford. Clearly the Protestants aren't going to be happy with him, but the IRA condemn Catholics in the RUC as traitors - in other words, it's open season on Catholic cops, from either side. One would think these facts alone would be enough to keep Duffy on his toes 24/7. But no, he occasionally forgets to check under his car for bombs. Duffy's a trifle laid back, yet he can also be described as an excitable boy, one who does not readily cope with frustration created by those who ought to know better.

When a murder case, and then a second one, land in Duffy's lap and those killings have nothing to do with The Troubles, but appear to be the work of a serial killer, our lad has to ask himself: If you want to be a serial killer in Belfast, why not join one of the paramilitary groups that encourage murder? That way, you get your killing done and get it approved as well, with lots of people willing to cover for you. Why make yourself stand out? And then a young woman, missing for months, is found dead, an apparent case of suicide, and what had been a complex case for Duffy now becomes positively labyrinthine. Before it's over, this case will reveal to Duffy his own dual nature, one that is just as complex as the world he inhabits.

All praise to McKinty for his depiction of Belfast in the throes of civil war:
There was trouble up in Belfast again. Potassium nitrate flares falling through the darkening sky. A Gazelle helicopter flying low over the lough water. Little kids walking past the police station showing each other the best technique for lobbing Molotov cocktails over the fence. Jesus, what a nightmare.

This was a city crucified under its own blitz.

This was a city poisoning its own wells, salting its own fields, digging its own grave...

Yet the author never sacrifices story, plot or pacing to accomplish the vivid creation of this historical setting. The story is a cracking good whodunnit, leavening the tragedy with wit and humor and fine characterization. Not to mention sticking very close to actual events. THE COLD COLD GROUND is the first in McKinty's trilogy about Sean Duffy and The Troubles. I'll be purchasing the second installment, I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET, very soon. Like today.


No comments:

Post a Comment