Sean Duffy is a man’s man, and judging from the evidence of his very popular crime novels, so is his creator Adrian McKinty.
That evidence is McKinty’s flair for detail: he loves to tell the reader exactly what kind of clothes Duffy is wearing and exactly what kind of gun he is picking up in pursuit of his latest villain. Probably more important than this, though, is McKinty’s sense of humour: there is a kind of black ice in the dialogue and in the commentary as Duffy trawls Northern Ireland for its many free-range criminals. Readers of McKinty will relish Duffy’s reappearance in the second of a promised trilogy featuring this stoical detective (the third novel will appear later this year).
Now living in Australia, it is as if distance allows McKinty a particular kind of gusto as he recreates what he calls ‘the low-level civil war euphemistically known as The Troubles’. His tone is always laconic, but the exchanges are crisp and idiomatic, expressing a language not just of a place but of a police force, a force which reflects in its make-up the composition of the community it serves. As in divided, split, besieged and at war with itself. Not everyone could tackle such a splintered society but McKinty seems to relish its challenges as much as its opportunities. His well-read officer enforces the law, of course, but as he interprets it himself, and Duffy’s maverick and foul-mouthed personality helps him tolerate the intolerance of his life as a Catholic in a predominantly Protestant organisation. He has a philosophy of sorts and knows his Epicurus from his Pot Noodles, and references of this kind give subtlety to the racy prose and offer something more than a blunt-force thriller.
From the first chapter Duffy is deep into a mysterious killing, or at least a mysterious corpse, headless and clue-less except for a tattoo. But this is the territory of the IRA, of the UVF, the UDR, of the British Army and American intelligence and heaven knows what else. It is also the territory of a series of unsolved or shelved murder cases and Duffy somehow has to unravel them all. In the meantime there’s a war in the Falklands: the chronology of the book shares the timeline with this event, but it is the politics of the DeLorean factory which define the local political landscape as Duffy and his colleagues (more rivals than comrades) try to discover what is going on and who might be responsible for it, whatever it is. And how much they will have to pay for getting close to the truth.
I Hear the Sirens won’t disappoint McKinty fans, and it may well attract many more, given Duffy’s rooted affiliation to his environment and to his contemporary culture, the songs, the music, the issues (and there are issues apart from the obvious ones), the clothes and the weaponry. Despite some quibbles with the first-person narrative style this is as convincing as the best of McKinty’s growing list of titles.