RogerBW's Blog

The Cold Cold Ground, Adrian McKinty 17 July 2021

2012 crime. It's the spring of 1981, and Sean Duffy is a Catholic detective in the RUC. He finds evidence of what might be Northern Ireland's first serial killer, not to mention a dodgy-looking suicide, but all too many things just don't add up.

The period atmosphere feels plausible, and is consistent with what people who were there have said about it. It's clearly a terrible environment for police work: any sort of local hard man is tied in with either the IRA or the UVF, which means that even routine questioning becomes fraught at best, impossible at worst. And since most people who like killing do join up with one or the other of those organisations, why is this serial killer different…?

Freddie's office was buzzing with earnest young men with beards and bell-bottomed corduroys. The women were in miniskirts and tight Aran sweaters and looked as if they'd bang you at the drop of a hat if you said you were on the run from the Johnnie Law.

That much I really enjoy. Duffy's impetuosity, rushing off and randomly interrogating people when he thinks it's All Become Clear, is less encouraging, and the eventual solutions of the cases are moderately unsatisfying.

Still, the backgound works very well; there are lots of date checks which make it clear that McKinty was going over newspaper archives, or at least Wikipedia, for what was happening when during the Maze hunger strikes, the Yorkshire Ripper trial and the royal wedding. But rather than just being infodumped they form part of the narrative, as people's reactions to them tell us more about the people. One might wonder why anyone chose to stay in Belfast, but that's a separate problem.

Not a great book, but much more enjoyable than the earlier Dead I May Well Be; here the Irishness feels real, rather than just a sentimental excuse for criminality in an entirely different country.

First in a series, but it stands reasonably well on its own.

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  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 05:29pm on 17 July 2021

    My boss grew up in Belfast. Since he's a bit younger than me he would have been at school in 1981. He describes learning to drive as fraught with difficulties. Nobody cared much about having a provisional driving licence (at least until you were ready to take your test), you had bigger concerns like looking carefully under the car before starting it or driving with the windows up even in the hottest weather because you never knew what someone might lob in otherwise. And you definitely stayed in your areas, Protestant or Catholic.

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