Seventh Street Books, 2014, 198 pages
A Catholic cop tracks an IRA master bomber amidst the sectarian violence of the conflict in Northern Ireland
It's the early 1980s in Belfast. Sean Duffy, a conflicted Catholic cop in the Protestant RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary), is recruited by MI5 to hunt down Dermot McCann, an IRA master bomber who has made a daring escape from the notorious Maze prison. In the course of his investigations Sean discovers a woman who may hold the key to Dermot's whereabouts; she herself wants justice for her daughter who died in mysterious circumstances in a pub locked from the inside. Sean knows that if he can crack the "locked-room mystery", the bigger mystery of Dermot's whereabouts might be revealed to him as a reward. Meanwhile the clock is ticking down to the Conservative Party conference in Brighton in 1984, where Mrs. Thatcher is due to give a keynote speech.
Like McKinty's other books, In the Morning I'll Be Gone is set in Ireland in the 1980s. The book is full of pop culture references to remind us of the era: Sean Duffy, between smoking weed and playing games on his Atari 5200 and trying to type up police reports on his brand new Macintosh computer, listens to Robert Plant, sneers at Spandau Ballet, and in the climax, spends a moment sharing a listen to Leonard Cohen on his Walkman with the IRA terrorist who's about to kill him.
Aside from all the 80s name-dropping, this is another plotty Irish noir crime drama, the third in the Inspector Duffy series. At the start of the book, Sean Duffy becomes "former" Inspector Duffy as he's "fitted up" for a hit-and-run that he didn't commit and railroaded out of the RUC. He spends his next few weeks aimlessly smoking pot, listening to music, and playing video games.
Then a bunch of IRA terrorists escape from Maze Prison. One of them is Dermot McCann, a childhood friend of Duffy's. So MI5 comes looking for him, asking him to help track down his old mate. In return, they can get him back on the force, his record clean. Sean tries to demand an apology from the Prime Minister, but settles for a promise that he'll be reinstated at his former rank with full benefits.
Initially, all his leads turn up dry. Unsurprisingly, as MI5 has alread been bugging the phone lines of anyone even remotely connected with their quarry. Then Duffy comes across an old murder case - the daughter of a woman who also happens to be Dermot McCann's former mother-in-law. She wants to know who killed her daughter, and if Duffy can solve that case, she promises him she can give him the location of her former son-in-law.
Duffy's investigation into a locked-room murder mystery is a routine but tightly worked out story. It's the angles - the corrupt cops, the relationships between protestants and Catholics, Irish and English, all against a backdrop of 80s politics with real history woven into the narrative of this novel, that makes it boil along convincingly, even if sometimes the power of the British government or ancient family connections does seem a little deux ex machina.
I don't know how long the Sean Duffy series will go on, and if it will eventually leave the 80s, but so far each book has been pretty good, reading like a contemporary thriller even if the references are intentionally dated.
Also by Adrian McKinty: My reviews of The Cold Cold Ground, I Hear the Sirens in the Street, and Hidden River.
My complete list of book reviews.