Star rating – 7/10
Adrian McKinty has certainly achieved a very likeable and original creation in Sean Duffy as that rare thing, a Catholic police officer in the RUC in the 1980’s. And Northern Ireland at the time of the Maze Prison Hunger Strikes is a great setting for a crime novel – it gives so much more scope to break out of the often limiting confines of the genre.
The writing is good, and pacey enough to keep up interest throughout. And the unique dangers of Duffy’s position are fleshed out very well. He is on the trail of a murderer who is seemingly unconnected to the ‘Troubles’; and is that rare thing for that time and place; a serial killer. And making this a serial killer of gay men at a time when homosexuality was still illegal on both sides of the Irish border gives a great canvass to play with and serious themes to explore. Add to that the unconnected suicide of the ex wife of one of the hunger strikers and Detective Sergeant Duffy is kept very busy.
I did have a couple of problems with the book through. There is an awful lot of signposting of the politics of the times, which feels a bit like an ABC of the modern history of Northern Ireland. I am not sure that McKinty really needs to spell out in such basic detail what the various factions such as the UVF and the UDA stand for, as he does at the start of the book. And the use of real figures to play such a prominent role in the unfolding drama, such as Gerry Adams, felt like a bit of a distraction from the action at times. I just kept wondering if they really would have done those things. And the end felt like a slight cop out, and although I am all for my crime novel heroes crossing the thin blue line in the cause of a good story, I didn’t totally buy some of the things that Duffy ends up doing.
But having moaned a bit, I would be very interested to follow what DS Duffy gets up to next, as this is the first part of a trilogy about him from McKinty. It did keep me turning the proverbial pages right to the end, and I did have a lot of empathy with the hero and his situation, so I call that a very entertaining and intelligent start.