A Catholic cop tracks a killer operating amidst the sectarian violence of the conflict in Northern Ireland.
Spring 1981. Northern Ireland. Belfast on the verge of outright civil war. The Thatcher government has flooded the area with soldiers but nightly there are riots, bombings, and sectarian attacks.
In the midst of the chaos, Sean Duffy, a young, witty, Catholic detective in the almost entirely Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary, is trying to track down a serial killer who is targeting gay men. As a Catholic policeman, Duffy is suspected by both sides and there are layers of complications. For one thing, homosexuality is illegal in Northern Ireland in 1981. Then he discovers that one of the victims was involved in the IRA, but was last seen discussing business with someone from the Protestant UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force).
Fast-paced, evocative, and brutal, The Cold Cold Ground is a brilliant depiction of Belfast at the height of the Troubles and a cop caught in the cross fire.
"If Raymond Chandler had grown up in Northern Ireland, The Cold Cold Ground is what he would have written."
—Times of London
"Set against a backdrop of riots in the middle of the 1981 hunger strikes and the death of Bobby Sands, McKinty creates a marvellous sense of time and place; an evocation of darkness and horror, of corruption and collusion, . . . the immediacy of death and the cheapness of life. . . . There will be many readers waiting for the next adventure of the dashing and intrepid Sergeant Duffy."
"A literary thriller that is as concerned with exploring the poisonously claustrophobic demi-monde of Northern Ireland during the Troubles, and the self-sabotaging contradictions of its place and time, as it is with providing the genre's conventional thrills and spills. The result is a masterpiece of Troubles crime fiction: had David Peace, Eoin McNamee and Brian Moore sat down to brew up the great Troubles novel, they would have been very pleased indeed to have written The Cold Cold Ground."
If there’s a book that might kick start my reading this year which has been laboured at best, this could well be the one. Smart, funny, interesting, compelling. I’ve enjoyed a couple of his previous books though it’s been a while since I last read him – Fifty Grand back in 2009. Too long really.
Funny how I love some authors, but don’t read them often enough…..why is that? Possibly because part of me still wants to savour the anticipation of opening a book from a favourite. Once I’ve started reading it though that feeling disappears. I suppose in some perverse way I enjoy the books I don’t read nearly as much as the ones I do………bizarre!
Anyway, I think this one could possibly be one of my best books of the year.
Northern Ireland, 1981, hunger strikes, Bobby Sands, IRA, The Maze, RUC, UVF, British Army, Gerry Adams, Maggie Thatcher, Sinn Fein, a couple of dead bodies, severed hands, homosexuality, bigotry and intolerance – religious and sexual, possible suicide, missing baby, Catholic police officer, mercury tilt bombs, riots, chaos, destruction, anarchy, tensions, civil war, mistrust, collusion, Special Branch, Ulster fries, drink, 80’s music, opera music, sheet music, protection rackets, postcards, mis-direction, informers, cottaging, pathology, black market goods, power worker strikes, Falls Road, Carrickfergus, Belfast, Larne, trains, forests, RPG’s, handguns, intimidation, knee-capping, snooker halls, red-white-blue kerbstones, murals, territory, protection rackets, MI5……….. a big sprawling mash-up of all these elements and more.
Great main character. Great support cast, with an interesting dynamic between Catholic Duffy and his Protestant colleagues. Great plot. Great sense of time and place in the narrative. I can vividly remember the time of the hunger strikes and the tension in the air at the time. Growing up Irish in Luton during the period this certainly takes me back and whilst I can’t look back at this episode with any great nostalgia, it’s a bit of a trip down memory lane in some respects – albeit one lived through from a distance - thankfully.
Verdict - 5 from 5
There are a couple more books from McKinty featuring Sean Duffy.
I Hear the Sirens in the Street (2)
In the Morning, I’ll Be Gone (3)
With a fourth book planned for 2015 – Sixteen Shells from a Thirty Ought Six
In the UK – McKinty’s books are available through Serpent’s Tail. In the US by Seventh Street Books.
Thanks to Lisa at Seventh Street for my copy.