I have a tendency to discover a new series of books when they are far from new. Clancy was on his third release when I discovered Jack Ryan. Michael Connolly and his famed Harry Bosch were many volumes into their adventures, Lee Child and Jack Reacher were entertaining their ‘Visitor’ before I found out and even good old Harry P was dallying with Prisoners in Azkaban before the rising wave of social chatter in London got too much to ignore. It’s a weird phenomenon and one I used to fret about. I would be annoyed that I hadn’t known about the books, hadn’t kept across the new releases, was so woefully ill-informed and had, somehow, missed the opportunity to be immersed in the characters and stories earlier.
My opinion is different now. Discovering a series of novels already well on its way is the equivalent of downloading a box-set on iTunes or turning on Netflix and binge watching. There is no delay between the instalments and I can get my fix of new in a deluge. Of course, once caught up there is the frustration of having to wait for the next hit, but in the interim you look around for other undiscovered gems.
So it is that I have just finished a book that came out almost four years ago, The Cold, Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty. I was alerted to it during the recent CrimeScene WA festival when Candice Fox, one of the other guest authors, asked me if I knew Adrian because we “sounded the same”. Sadly, I had to admit I didn’t. However, that night, I dutifully google-stalked him to discover an author, born just up the road from me in Northern Ireland, writing crime fiction (and winning multiple top-level awards for it), now living in Australia.
Scanning the blurbs of his books, I settled on the first of what has now become a series of five (soon to be six) novels based around a 1980’s Carrickfergus RUC Detective called Sean Duffy. Reading a story with fictional murders, strictly unrelated to, but bound-up in, the Troubles was intriguing enough, but a Carrick-based detective… I mean, how could I not. Carrick’s majestic castle stands only fourteen miles from it’s less well known and, to be fair, less imposing cousin Olderfleet Castle, in my hometown of Larne. I’d read plenty of non-fiction concerning Northern Ireland in the fun days of the Eighties, but never any fiction based in the north-east of Country Antrim during that time. That little twinge of fretfulness, for not having known about it sooner, gave me a friendly poke in the head, but I managed to get past it.
The Cold, Cold Ground has been reviewed multiple times by professionals and Amazonian amateurs alike. It was listed as a best book of the year by the London Times and won a few awards. As such, there shouldn’t be a lot more to say about it. It’s a great read, well-written, lyrical, pacey, edgy, a page-turner. You get the idea. For me, all those things are true. Most definitely true. In fact Sean Duffy, our conflicted ‘in oh so many ways conflicted’ hero is, for me, a marvelous reinvention of Inspector Morse, crossed with Lieutenant Columbo, with an added dash of Philip Marlowe, in some strange noir ménage à trois. Flavour the outcome with a brushing of Presbyterian dourness and a hefty seasoning of Catholic guilt and Duffy would be ‘Yer Man’. But, and I will admit I may have missed it, a quick scan of those reviews seems to leave out the crux of the book for me.
It is McKinty’s acute observations and the layering on of an atmosphere that, for anyone who was there at the time, recaptures perfectly north-east Ulster in the early eighties. The novel is for the most part set in May 1981. The Hunger Strikes. I remember what it felt like and this Carrick-cum-Melbourne author, only a couple of years younger than me, obviously knew it too and captures it superbly. Yes, he plays with the acronyms and the names, yes he weaves a blend of fact and fiction into the narrative to blur the lines between truth and reality, but in the feel of the places, the oppressive nature of mass-unemployment, the knowledge of a future that was bleak, and looking bleaker by the minute, he gets it absolutely spot-on. Like he does with the humour and the speech of the people involved. In parts, I would laugh out loud, reminded of phrases that I have long ago stopped using, for there aren’t many around me now who would know what a sleeked wee shite was. But that’s okay. McKinty does and I am so pleased Candice virtually introduced him to me. I’m off to indulge in a deluge of Duffy. I recommend you do the same.
Ian Andrew is the author of the alternative history novel A Time To Every Purpose, the detective thrillers Face Value and Flight Path and the Little Book of Silly Rhymes & Odd Verses. All are available in e-book and paperback. Follow him on social media: