Tag Archives: Sean Duffy

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly: Adrian McKinty

“I’ve stirred up something strange, something deep.”

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly, the sixth entry in the Sean Duffy series from author Adrian McKinty bears an unwieldy title,  but don’t let that stand in the way of picking up this well-crafted crime novel. Set in 1988, during The Troubles, this latest book from the consistently reliable McKinty, is an explosive police procedural set against the violence of the times.

Detective Inspector Sean Duffy, now in middle-age, a father with a live-in girlfriend wonders just how long his career will last. On one hand he’s a Catholic officer in the almost entirely protestant Carrickfergus RUC–that means as a catholic officer, there’s a IRA bounty on his head, and due to his past decisions, he knows he’ll never be promoted. In this novel, Duffy’s old habits, combined with the endless stress of the job find him out-of-shape and struggling with asthma. Can he give up the smokes, the booze and the other recreational habits he’s acquired in order to cope with his efforts to stay alive, solve cases and maintain some degree of integrity?

police at the station

The novel’s powerful opening finds Duffy marched off by masked men (and one woman) to a remote area to dig his own grave, and then the novel backtracks to the incidents that led Sean to this point. Backtracking from a moment of great tension is a risky venture for some novelists (my next review will cover that topic) but in McKinty’s capable hands, the action, with just a touch of humour, never stops, and as a result, the intense page-turning backstory maintains momentum.

Duffy is called to investigate a murder–the weapon of choice in this case is a crossbow, and the victim was a lowly drug dealer. There’s pressure from above to close the case, and Duffy is told in no uncertain words to ‘move on.’ When Duffy keeps digging, bad things begin to happen, and Duffy along with two trusted members of the force: Crabbie and Lawson in effect, lead a secret investigation that tunnels back to the past.

Series novels always include details about the characters’ personal lives. In this novel, Duffy, now a father, has deeper concerns than he’s had in the past. Plus Duffy’s live-in Protestant girlfriend isn’t happy living in a Catholic neighborhood and she isn’t sure she wants to raise a child in Northern Ireland. Duffy juggles pressures from his superiors with domestic strife and very real threats to his life. Plus thanks to health issues, he may be tagged as unfit for duty.

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly is possibly the best entry in the series so far. Once again, McKinty places us squarely in the murky times by dropping in mention of real events: the Gibraltar terrorism, and the murder of two British army corporals. Curious, I looked up the RUC on Wikipedia and the article states that “at its peak” the force had 8500 officers and that “during the Troubles 319 RUC officers were killed and 9,000 injured in paramilitary assassinations or attacks.”

It would be fairly predictable to place a character in these times and show how things are never black and white, but McKinty does something entirely different. The Sean Duffy novels at all about identity and primary loyalties. In Duffy’s case, he’s a Catholic from working class roots, but he is not an ideologue; he’s first and foremost a policeman who is going to get the job done. Now if he rubs up against Catholics, Protestants or the wealthy along the way to solving his case, these labels are all white noise to Duffy. Being primarily a policeman has carried Duffy so far but now he’s a father and these two labels: father and policeman have their own magnetic pulls.

As I said, this is the sixth in the series, and while some brief references to the past are dropped in the plot, you can jump in with Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly--although it’s better to start at the beginning in order to follow Duffy’s career trajectory. The end of the novel finds Duffy at an interesting place in his career, and now I’m really looking forward to seeing how this plays out.

Reading Ireland Month

This is my entry for Reading Ireland Month held by Cathy 746 and Niall at The Fluff is Raging

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Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty

“How can you investigate a murder in a time of incipient civil war?”

Irish author Adrian McKinty, now living in Australia, wrote Dead I May Well Be, which is one of the best modern crime novels I’ve ever read. This is the story of Michael Forsythe who, finding himself running out of options in his native Ireland, relocates to New York where he becomes an enforcer for crime boss Darkey White. If you haven’t read Dead I May Well Be, the first in the Michael Forsythe trilogy, then do yourself a favour and grab a copy.

McKinty’s Gun Street Girl is the fourth in his Sean Duffy series, and while I own all of the books, I am hoping aboard for this one. With just a couple of brief references to an incident or two in his past, this Sean Duffy novel can easily be read as a stand-alone, so if you read it and like me, enjoy it, it’ll be easy to go back and pick up Sean’s earlier history.

Gun Street girlThe story focuses on what appears to be an ‘open-and-shut’ case (Duffy hates that term) of a double murder-suicide involving a very wealthy middle-aged couple and their son, Michael, who’s just been kicked out of Oxford following a scandal. The murders take place in Whitehead, just “over the line in Carrick’s RUC turf,” and Inspector Duffy, the head of the CID unit, has to decide whether or not to fight for the case or to hand this high-profile murder to Larne RUC.  Duffy makes his decision under a great deal of stress, and he opts to fight for the case–a decision which says a great deal about his tenacious character. One of the interesting implications of this turf war is that if Duffy hadn’t fought for the case, the outcome would have been far different:

“Do you think these victims were shot by a nine-millimeter?”

“Again forensics will tell us for sure, but if you ask me the wounds are consistent with a pistol of that caliber.”

“Yeah. Almost certainly.”

“But you’re not happy?” he said, reading my expression accurately.

I shook my head. “I don’t know, Crabbie, I can see where you’re pointing me, but this thing has a professional killing vibe about it, don’t you think?”

While the clues to the crime are dropped like gingerbread crumbs to lead Duffy to the solution,  Duffy, instead focuses on the things that don’t fit the scenario, and soon he’s up to his neck in rogue Americans who may or may not be spooks, the closed ranks of the upper-class British, and M-I5.

The story is set against the Anglo-Irish Agreement; it’s 1985, and the violent riots which break out wreak havoc with Duffy’s investigation.  Gun Street Girl places its characters squarely in the tumultuous 80s, and the author’s note at the end of the book admits to “several real historical events of the time period.” These real events–along with frequent music references help build a solid sense of atmosphere.

Duffy is the sole catholic working in his department and living in the protestant neighbourhood of Carrickfergus. McKinty’s realistic characters are complex, and that’s one of the fascinating aspects of this excellent, compelling crime novel. Duffy navigates a fragmented, chaotic, violent society in which people are defined by labels–labels which on a peer level are theoretically safety zones but paradoxically also attract unpredictable, random violence. These are labels that show clear demarcations of beliefs and loyalties: cop, crook, Catholic, Protestant, IRA, UDF and yet as the plot continues all the labels assigned or selected by various characters, blur and pixelate.

“Would it surprise you to learn that one in four IRA volunteers now works for us in some capacity?” Kate said, deadpan.

“One in four! You’re joking!”

“One in four. Actually in terms of percentages it’s around twenty-seven percent.”

“A quarter of the IRA are actually British agents? Bollocks!” I said utterly shocked.

“It’s true,” Kendrick said. “One in four IRA volunteers work for us in some capacity as fully paid informers, as petty touts or occasionally as active agents.”

I was struggling to take this in. “But, but … but if that’s true why haven’t you shut them down completely?”

“The cell structure,” Kendrick explained.

“Some commands have entirely resisted infiltration. The South Armagh Brigade, for example. The sleeper cells in England and Germany. And then there’s also the fact that we’re playing the long game with many of these agents and informers. Letting them rise as far as they can …”

“So you let them commit the odd murder here and there so they can prove their bona fides and move up the ranks?” I said with some disgust.

Duffy is a prime example of a McKinty character who could be defined by labels–he’s a Catholic cop (hated by both sides of the population), but in Duffy, McKinty creates a strong main character, someone we definitely want to hang out with–a man who, once you scrape the surface, defies labels, doesn’t kiss ass and breaks the rules. There’s some deep inner core of highly individualistic integrity in Duffy, so while he does the odd line of coke, he refuses to be intimidated by the power structure of the British government. Duffy is a man you could count on to do ‘the right thing’ but it’s the right thing as defined and performed by Duffy.

I’m not going to say much about the plot, but I’ll add that Duffy lives in a Protestant neighbourhood–a decision that makes a definite statement.  Every time Duffy gets into his car, he looks for bombs, and the author adds this detail repeatedly which, rather unpredictably, adds humour even as it underscores the fact that Duffy can never relax as to be caught off his guard could prove deadly. Duffy’s outlook–although jaded and cynical–is still somehow refreshing & humorous which fits the insanity and chaos of his environment.

In Gun Street Girl Duffy breaks in two new detective constables. In the beginning of the novel, Duffy prefers the female as “the slightly more interesting of the two.” The other detective constable is Alexander Lawson, who’s liked by the other coppers, but Duffy “feel[s] a little irritated by his slickness.” As the plot moves on, Duffy finds himself working closely with Lawson and in time his impression of the newbie improves, and again this says a lot about Duffy’s character as he doesn’t pollute his relationship with Lawson with snobbery. There’s a great moment in the novel when Duffy and Lawson travel over to England and get a taste of what it’s like to live in a country that’s not a war zone but also what it’s like to be treated like a couple of sightseeing, boozing idiots by the British police. Prejudices and assumptions bombard the two Irish cops and Duffy, who really can be a chameleon, sets his British hosts straight about his serious approach to the case. Here’s Duffy and the woman who runs a B&B in Oxford:

“Inspector Sean Duffy,” I wrote in the book. She didn’t notice the “Inspector,” but the name and the accent gave her a fond memory: ‘”Of course, in my late husband’s time we had a strict rule about Irishmen. He was very particular. Do you remember that, Jeffrey?”

“No Irish, no West Indians,” Jeffery said.

“Oh yes, he was very particular was my Kenneth. You knew where he stood.”

Again back to those labels.

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