Seventh Street Books, 2012, 320 pages
The Cold Cold Ground is the start of a major new series from Adrian McKinty, author of the acclaimed Falling Glass, Fifty Grand and the DEAD trilogy.
Featuring Catholic cop Sean Duffy whose outsider status in the mostly Protestant RUC makes it as hard to do his job as the criminals he’s fighting, this is the start of a new series set in Troubles-era Belfast. A body is found in a burnt out car. Another is discovered hanging from a tree. Could this be Northern Ireland’s first serial killer, or another paramilitary feud?
The Cold Cold Ground is the second "Belfast Noir" series I've started, after reading Stuart Neville's Jack Lennon series.
Unlike the Jack Lennon series, this one is set in the early 80s, at the height of the Troubles. It doesn't really feel much different, though — Sean Duffy, a Catholic police inspector, has to deal with the same shady characters, corruption, and collusion between sworn enemies, just in an environment where bombs are still going off and Northern Ireland policemen are fair game for IRA assassins.
Duffy is initially called on to investigate the death of a low-level IRA flunky. At first it looks like a pretty routine bit of dirty business, just another Fenian caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then they find a note shoved up the victim's rectum, and Duffy's investigation uncovers evidence that the victim was fond of taking other things up there as well. Then another "poofter" is found dead, and Duffy is convinced that Northern Ireland has its first bonafide serial killer.
His superiors, of course, are not thrilled by this. No one wants a serial killer. (The assumption is that these types don't exist in Northern Ireland, because anyone with those proclivities could just join one of the many murderous factions that would provide them with plenty of victims.) Hunger strikes are going on, and the IRA doesn't want them being eclipsed in the news by sensational stories about a serial killer targeting homosexuals. Duffy starts getting pressure and threats from all sides to wrap the case up in a tidy and agreeable fashion that leaves out theories about serial killers.
How is this case tied to the apparent suicide of a hunger striker's estranged wife?
The Cold Cold Ground is dark and gritty, and Adrian McKinty's writing was very similar to Stuart Neville's. He seemed to enjoy inserting lots of 80s pop culture references — Inspector Duffy is fond of music, and movies, giving plenty of opportunity for gratuitous namechecking. There's also what appears to be a gratuitous bisexual tangent when Duffy spontaneously makes out with a rentboy, as much to his own surprise as the reader's — not sure where that is supposed to go.
Despite a few of those distracting tangents, though, the storytelling was solid and the atmosphere bloody and violent and Irish, and if you like these sorts of books, it looks like another series worth continuing.
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