Adrian McKinty’s series of Sean Duffy novels prove the wisdom of Elmore Leonard’s advice: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly opens with the part other novels get to after 200 pages. Duffy, a policeman in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, is being marched up a mountain to dig his own grave.From there we go back to the beginning that brought Duffy to this predicament. A dead drug dealer, killed by an arrow, leads to a corrupt cop. The pace rarely slows, nor do the world-weary quips and the tired cynicism of the cop who has seen too much. Like Ian Rankin and George Pelecanos, his peers in contemporary crime fiction (McKinty has attained that level of distinction), Duffy is a detective in the grand tradition: “Like Jules Maigret I arrived at the scène du crime thoroughly existentially jaded.” Duffy has the mannerisms of Ian Rankin’s Rebus and Pelecanos’s Nick Stefanos: a pop cultural authenticity and a deep connection to the city of their choice, Belfast in Duffy’s case. All three detectives provide a multitude of pleasures in their novels, thrills as much as opening up the history and troubled present of their city.
McKinty keeps to those qualities that makes any fictional detective (and John Thaw in The Sweeney) so appealing: “We’re the Old Bill. We can do whatever the fuck we want, son.” The crimes Duffy uncovers link to conspiracies. Like James Ellroy’s world-view, there is an architecture of crime running throughout the Duffy novels that ultimately stretch to the people in power, the guilty are those beyond the law.
Duffy is a policeman investigating murder in the midst of “a three-hundred-and-fifty-year-long blood feud” against a background of events that were once headline news (here, it is the deaths of IRA members in Gibraltar). McKinty captures the defining emotion of life in Northern Ireland then, the absence of hope, the deadening fear that the violence will never end: “Couldn’t they see the future? Entropy maximising. Neighbour against neighbour.” This is the sixth novel to feature Sean Duffy, a series that is building into the most vivid, convincing, portrait of daily life in 1980s Northern Ireland in contemporary fiction.
Any Cop?: This is a firecracker of a novel. It might be found on the crime shelves but it is character driven, with a sense of period, that literary novelists seem to have given up on. And there’s another five novels just as good as this.