There are times in history that don’t seem very funny and if you lived through them you would find it hard to laugh. The 1970/80s in Northern Ireland may just be one such era as sectarian violence means that you are always wary of your surroundings. This is exemplified for Detective Inspector Sean Duffy, a Catholic Police Officer who has a permanent bounty on his head by the IRA. He should be a sombre chap, but instead he tackles his problems with a sardonic grace. That is until he finds himself in a remote wood digging his own grave. Is Duffy about to crack his last joke?
The events leading up to Duffy’s impending execution by the IRA started pretty mundanely with the murder of yet another drug dealer. Normally this would be a victimless crime in Norther Ireland, but Duffy and his fellow Inspectors of their provincial station have had little to do recently. At least this murder is a little on the odd side – when was the last time the IRA bothered to use a crossbow, rather than a gun?
Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly is the 6th outing for Sean Duffy and he has not learnt a huge amount from the various scrapes he has found himself in. Older and not much wiser he once more goes up against the paramilitary groups, but also Officers on the force. Adrian McKinty has created a series that is a perfect mix of place, character and mystery. For Police to work as well as it does, all three are required.
In terms of setting it does not come much more intriguing than The Troubles. With a backdrop of bombs and riots the police still need to do their job, although no one will talk to them. This book is essentially a very well written police procedural title, which just happens to be in a very interesting setting that forces the procedural elements in some odd directions. This is in turn helped by Duffy himself who is willing to break a few laws to get the job done.
Most fictional detectives have a vice, Duffy has several; hard drinking, law breaking and mates with a terrorist or two. However, he is also a romantic and an intellectual. Being a Catholic in a Protestant dominated Police Force also suggests a slice of self-loathing. Why go this route after Bloody Sunday? There are so many elements that feed into Duffy making him one of the most interesting protagonists in modern crime writing. Despite all his issues, it is his humour that comes to the fore. Duffy using a black sense of humour to get through the day and as a reader it makes him very readable.
The central mystery in Police does not prove to be the strongest element of the book and strip away the setting and characters and it is pretty straight forward. However, that is not the point. It is the dressing that make this book so good, you would want to read McKinty’s view of Northern Ireland in 1988 no matter what was happening. He is a very evocative writer and he is able to bring out the humour and menace of the place in equal measure.
As the sixth outing in the series it is perhaps best picking up the earlier outings to see how Duffy has really managed to mess up his career and love life, but you could pick this book and read it alone as the story is self-contained. However, you would be doing yourself an injustice as you would miss out on some of the best modern crime fiction around.
Written on 23rd January 2019 by Sam Tyler.
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