RogerBW's Blog

Hidden River, Adrian McKinty 25 July 2022

2004 crime. Alexander Lawson was a rising star in the RUC, until he joined the drugs squad and got hooked on heroin. But in 1995, when his first girlfriend is murdered in Denver, her father encourages him to go and look into it.

Which is fine as far as it goes… but it doesn't really go very far. We're told that Lawson was a wunderkind detective until he got into the drugs (which in turn was a Brilliant Scheme on his part), but we're shown this guy who thinks he can handle it all and really can't. Which could well be an effective contrast, except that it throws me very much out of sympathy with this first-person protagonist, and even when – no spoiler – he involuntarily gets clean, he doesn't seem to think or act any differently.

Something about that smile, though. Beautiful like a sun-drenched cornfield above a missile silo.

So Lawson goes and puts his big feet into a situation that was already tense, and more people die, and he's just stupid; he ignores a very obvious suspect even when they have "could easily have dunnit" painted all over them. I know that there's only a limited set of ways to write a mystery story and I've read quite a few of them and know many of the tricks, but while I don't mind spotting the criminal from the clues that the detective also has I really don't want to be spotting them because they're the one plausible suspect whom the detective is ignoring for no obvious reason.

Especially when a clue so blatant that it's not even really a clue any more, simply a claim (which may nor may not be true) about the identity of the killer, has been given in the introductory description of the murder, something to which Lawson of course has no access. I mean, if you want to abandon the mystery and write a thriller in which we all know who the bad guy is, let the investigator in on it and make it an action book instead…

Combine that with repeated foreshadowing about some of the people who are going to die and other things that will go wrong, and it's all very rough. I understand this was an early book for McKinty, and he's at least got away from the sentimental Irishry of Dead I May Well Be, but I found myself surprisingly out of sympathy with it given the quality of his later The Cold Cold Ground.

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