Cathy at 746 books hosted Reading Ireland Month during March 2016, so it seemed like the perfect time to pick up Rain Dogs, the 5th book in the Sean Duffy series from author Adrian McKinty. As a police procedural with just a few references to other cases in the past, it’s possible to read this as a stand-alone.
Rain Dogs finds Detective Inspector Sean Duffy still working in Northern Ireland, in the Carrickfergus CID. It’s the late 80s, and we’re in the so-called ‘Troubles,’ —a misnomer if ever I heard one. Duffy is on the point of a break-up with his live-in girlfriend, Beth, who basically tells Sean that he needs to find someone his own age (ouch!). Duffy is called out on a very petty incident to locate the missing wallet of a visiting Finn VIP at the toney Coast Road Hotel. The theft turns out to be a wild goose chase, and yet it’s also the incident that opens the door to murder, conspiracy, intervention from higher-ups and even the deepest betrayal from an unexpected direction.
Duffy is subsequently called to Carrickfergus Castle to investigate what appears to be a suicide. An attractive British journalist, Lily Bigelow, who caught Duffy’s eye at the hotel the day before, is found dead on the castle grounds. She appears to have jumped to her death, with depression over a broken relationship as the root cause, but there are two elements to the case which trouble Duffy: her notebook has vanished, and her shoes were placed on the wrong feet. Could this be a homicide? And yet if this is a case of murder, who is the killer? The castle grounds were locked down for the night, and while it’s theorized that Lily hid somewhere on the grounds in order to commit suicide (and CCTV shows her entering but not exiting the castle,) several searches and even tracking dogs do not reveal the overnight presence of a possible killer other than the highly respectable, responsible caretaker who swears that he didn’t see the girl–let alone murder her.
The case haunts Duffy and recalls the Lizzie Fitzpatrick case (Book 3: In the Morning I’ll be Gone)–a case in which a young girl was murdered inside a locked pub. Rain Dogs explores how the random, explosive violence of everyday life during The Troubles is a dance with death and just how easy it is to slip a murder in under sectarian violence. This is also the first time I’ve heard of a mercury tilt bomb.
McKinty brings these troubled times alive with a sense of disturbing reality. Duffy is Catholic which puts him outside of his Protestant CID department, his girlfriend Beth is a Protestant, and he lives in a Protestant neighbourhood. Although he’s surrounded by sectarian violence, Duffy rises above it–labels don’t exist in Duffy’s mind–even though he must survive in a chaotic, violent society in which labels are enough to get you killed. Duffy is intelligent enough to realize that while labels may offer a degree of identity, they certainly don’t guarantee much more beyond that. It’s clear that while Duffy is an excellent detective, he’ll never rise above a certain rank–he’s too much of an independent thinker and while his investigations are intense, he doesn’t have any respect for lines of class, power or money.
Duffy is an interesting character–definitely someone we want to hang out with, and while McKinty keeps Duffy well within the bounds of his well-established fictional creation, Duffy remains surprisingly and pleasantly unpredictable. Something occurs during a trip to England which made me even fonder of this character. As tough as Duffy’s environment is, he’s still humane.
There’s one great scene where Killian, a gypsy is arrested for car theft. He coolly brags that juvenile facilities make escape easy:
“We could charge you with conspiracy. I suggest to Special Branch that you’re part of a car-theft ring that aids paramilitaries, I get you sent to an adult prison. Special Branch will keep social services out of it.”
“Why would you do that?”
“To teach you a lesson and stop you stealing cars,” I said, switching back to English.
“That seems a bit of a disproportionate response,” Killian said.
“Maybe I’m the disproportionate response type.”
“You don’t seem the disproportionate response type,” Killian said, blowing a smoke ring up to the ceiling.
“You speak Irish and you’re Catholic, I’d say that you’ve had your fair degree of shite from the RUC and are probably on the side of the underdog, which, in this analogy, would be me.”
I bit down a grin and thought about it. Not a completely unlikeable kid.
By the time the novel ends, it’s clear that Duffy has personal and professional problems in his future. This really is a great crime series and is certainly worth investing in.
Over the past few years, my dislike of finding real people making appearances in fiction has grown. I can’t mention the name of the infamous person who appears here without giving away a major part of the crime factor, so I’ll just say that this is a pet peeve of mine, but at the same time, I understand that McKinty was showing just how absolutely insane a particular situation was. Having powerful friends literally gave this person carte blanche. How disgraceful.