Review published on January 10, 2018.
Ireland has a great tradition of crime writers. Adrian McKinty is one of the best of the current generation and Sean Duffy is his best creation to date. The eccentric title is a quirk of McKinty’s and it gives you an idea of the playful sardonic nature of his writing. This is dark territory but a bit of humour goes a long way to making the serious themes of the novel more potent. Police at the Station…. is the sixth novel in the Sean Duffy series and there is no sign of McKinty slacking in tempo or quality. This is an intelligent, fast-paced thriller blessed with sharp witty dialogue and a cracking plot. The Duffy series is set in bleak 1980s Northern Ireland, where the Troubles are never far from the action. Police at the Station…. is set in 1988. The people that populate the streets embody the spirit of off-hand humour that masks the Troubles. The sense of time and place is pitch perfect. Everything exists in a grey zone, no black or white, so you are never sure who is on the right side of the law and that includes the policemen.
Duffy has done his best over the years to burn bridges and acquire the reputation of most disliked cop in the shop. His total disregard for authority has nearly cost him his job and has cost him his rank. So now he’s a sergeant. He’s a Catholic who lives in the heart of Unionist territory and although there is an uneasy peace with his neighbours he always has to check under the car for bombs of a morning. Duffy knows how to start a fight in an empty room and if this novel was set now Duffy would be an expert at getting unfriended. Because he’s a Catholic, not that religion is particularly his thing, a lot of his colleagues don’t trust him and as a policeman a lot of the Catholic community think he’s a traitor. So even though he walks a fine line Duffy isn’t good at compromise and if he starts looking into something he will get to bottom of it and hang the consequences. In Police at the Station…. he has gone too far. He’s fallen foul of the IRA and a death squad picks him up and takes him for a drive in the country. While Duffy is digging a hole in the ground and desperately trying to think of something to get himself out of this mess we get to see where it all started. Bored by a family holiday Duffy takes the first opportunity to rush back to Carrickfergus CID to take over a fresh murder case. A low-level drug dealer has been shot dead with a crossbow, an unusual MO for the paramilitaries. The team have got nowhere and the wife isn’t talking. As soon as she is released she disappears. Family trouble looms as his girlfriend begins to doubt his commitment to their relationship. There are factions in the IRA who see this as a great chance to get their hands on Duffy and his superiors and the security services don’t trust him an inch. So when he goes out on a limb they leave him there, even internal affairs start looking into his dealings with the IRA.
I love the way McKinty weaves the real history of Northern Ireland into his Sean Duffy stories. Everything from Delorean and the CIA to extra-judicial murder and child abuse at the Kincora children’s home. In this case it’s the aftermath of the SAS shooting of IRA terrorists in Gibraltar, Michael Stone shooting up a funeral and the murder of two soldiers caught up in a funeral procession. It gives Duffy a grounding in the real world and makes the stories something more than just murder mysteries. The world of crime writing is littered with wise cracking detectives but Duffy has carved out his own place and he is one of the best. There’s a conspiracy to be uncovered in Police at the Station…. Duffy wants to expose it but it doesn’t suit anyone else to let him find out the truth. The pace, like the dialogue, fizzes and there are enough twists in the plot to keep you guessing.
I can see this novel being a lot of fun for a crime readers group. The novel is loaded with cultural references which will appeal to people of a certain age.
It feels good backing Duffy against the odds but is he about to get a bullet in the back of the neck?
First rate hard-boiled police procedural and if you like it I would recommend Anthony J. Quinn (Inspector Celsius Daly), Brian McGilloway (Inspector Devlin) or Stuart Neville’s Ghosts of Belfast. Three more top notch Irish thriller writers.
Paul Burke 5/4
Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly by Adrian McKinty
Serpent’s Tail 9781781256930 pbk Jul 2017
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