Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: Hidden River, by Adrian McKinty

A heroin addict ex-cop from Belfast goes to solve the murder of an Indian-Irish girl in Denver.

Hidden River

Scribner, 2004, 288 pages

Alexander Lawson is a former detective for Northern Ireland's police force. After a disastrous six-month stint in the drug squad, he became addicted to heroin and resigned in disgrace. Now 24, sickly, and on the dole, Alex learns that his high-school love, Victoria Patawasti, has been murdered in America. Victoria's wealthy family sends Alex to Colorado to investigate the case, and he seizes the opportunity for a chance at redemption.

But things don't go as planned. Plagued by a heroin habit, forced to go on the run after the only credible witness to Victoria's murder is accidentally killed, wanted by both the Colorado cops and the Ulster police, Alex struggles just to stay alive.

Gritty, with spot-on dialogue and black humor, Hidden River is a dynamic thriller.

I wonder if Adrian McKinty is one of those guys stuck in the era of his teens. All of his novels are set in the 80s and 90s and are full of period pop culture references. His books are gritty Irish noir, involving compromised cops, crooked politicians, the Troubles, and femme fatales, all to a sound track of Depeche Mode, Tears For Fears, and U2.

Hidden River was one of his earlier books, written before the Sean Duffy series. It shows a slightly different style, occasionally jumping between different POVs and using heavy-handed foreshadowing as a literary device, but it's otherwise as solid as his later books.

Alexander Lawson is a genius, former wunderkind of the Northern Ireland police force with the highest clearance and promotion rate on record, being groomed for great things. Coming from an agnostic Jewish family, the sectarian troubles of Belfast leave him mostly untouched personally. His fall comes in the form of heroin - he is that great cliche, a cop on the drug squad who becomes a user. Caught stealing evidence, he is kicked off the force and is now an addict on the dole, when he gets caught between his dealer and a vengeful Special Branch agent who wants information from him that will cost him his life.

Conveniently, this is when Alex's old high school girlfriend, the lovely Victoria Patawasti, who went off to America to do great things, is found murdered. Victoria's family is not satisfied with the "killed by an illegal Mexican immigrant in her apartment" story, and so sends Alex to investigate. Alex is no longer a cop, but he does need to get the hell out of Ireland. His still-a-cop buddy John goes with him, eager to see the great big US of A.

Naturally, everything goes to shit. Alex infiltrates the conservative environmental PAC Victoria was working for, finds a suspect and a motive almost immediately, gets seduced by the main suspect's beautiful socialite wife, and then has to go on the run after another suspicious death.

The plot winds around a bit, taking Alex on detours that probably weren't necessary for the story, and it is pretty obvious right away who the real murderer is despite all the red herrings the author tries to drop. The big twist is the real story behind how Alex got hooked on heroin (it was, again, fairly obvious that the story he gives in the beginning of the book is just too pat).

This was a nicely executed bit of Irish noir mixed with pop culture and early 90s American politics.

Also by Adrian McKinty: My reviews of The Cold Cold Ground and I Hear the Sirens in the Street.

My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: adrian mckinty, books, mystery, reviews

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