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27 May 2014

Adrian McKinty: The Cold Cold Ground (Detective Sean Duffy 1)

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The Heart of the Northern Ireland troubles
Several people advised me to read Adrian McKinty's books and I wasn't disappointed. This is the first book in the Sean Duffy series set in Northern Ireland during the worst times of "The Troubles" between the IRA and the Protestant groups. His writing has a sharp driving force that keeps your attention, his characters and settings are gritty and the action can be fast and furious.

 McKinty gives us amazing descriptions of Northern Ireland in 1981, the seedy desperate housing estates on both sides, the hunger strikes in The Maze prison, car bombs, and enforcers on both sides specialising in knee capping and assassination. Children's homework includes learning how to make and throw Molotov cocktails. The Catholics hate the Protestants and they all hate British forces, Special Branch and especially the local police - the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

Sean Duffy is an enigma, a Catholic university graduate sickened by the conflict who decided to join the predominantly Protestant RUC. He is good at what he does and has solved several murders but hasn't been able to prosecute because nobody is prepared to risk becoming a witness. In a world of murders and assassinations connected with The Troubles, Sergeant Duffy investigates a couple of deaths which at first sight don't appear to be connected with the troubles. One appears to be a sadistic murder of a homosexual man with IRA connections and the other appears to be hanging suicide of a young woman, divorced from one of the hunger strikers, who disappeared under strange circumstances several months before.

Duffy methodically investigates each case, intruding into dangerous territory and talking to dangerous people to try to make sense of the cases. Every time his squad go into the notorious Falls Road area they full riot gear, and go fully armed in an armoured Land Rover.

Sean is a lonely man, living in the middle of a Protestant estate, drowning his sorrows in a vodka gimlet (a pint glass with half lime juice and half vodka) each evening. His romantic endeavours with Laura Cathcart, the local pathologist, start off well and then finish up in a heap. He is persistent with the cases but as soon as he starts to get a grip on what is happening the cases are taken away from him.

This is all great stuff for a police procedural set in authentic and dangerous times. I enjoyed the book, but was a bit iffy about the pretty over-the-top and unbelievable finale. But it left Sean Duffy in a position to come back in two more books in the trilogy which I look forward to reading.

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