Detective Sean Duffy of the Royal Ulster Constabulary has to walk a very fine line. It’s 1981 and Northern Ireland is ablaze in sectarian violence after IRA commander and hunger-striking prisoner Bobby Sands dies. As a Catholic, Duffy is mistrusted by the Protestant population, and even by some of his police colleagues. As a policeman (or peeler, as the slang name has it) he is mistrusted and often hated by the Catholic population. In the midst of riots and random violence, Duffy is assigned to investigate the killings of two gay men. As he investigates, it begins to look as though a serial killer is at work. As he digs deeper, he runs afoul of both the IRA and his own superiors, neither of whom seem to want him to find the killer.
McKinty paints a tense and convincing picture of the suspicion, danger and continuous threat of catastrophic violence that hung over Northern Ireland during “The Troubles.” He has also created a believable and sympathetic character in Sean Duffy. Duffy is a man who leads a difficult life with dignity, integrity and a fair amount of dark humor.
I have liked McKinty’s work for several years now, and have admired his ability to plot a very tight mystery. He has managed to keep the ideas that propel his mysteries fresh so we have not had to suffer through the reverse-engineered plots that mar the careers of so many great mystery writers. It is gratifying to see that there are plans for more Duffy novels.
I discovered McKinty’s novels through my love of the work of the actor who has narrated all the audio editions of his novels so far, an Irish actor named Gerard Doyle. Some years ago I tried to listen to the book Eragon. I didn’t care for it and gave up quickly, but I loved the voice talent, so I sought out other books that he had narrated. My local library had the audio edition of McKinty’s Hidden River. It was easily the best mystery I read/listened to in 2004. I’ve been a real fan of Doyle’s interpretation of McKinty’s books ever since.
After you listen to Cold Cold Ground and you find yourself impatiently waiting for the next Duffy book, give Hidden River a listen—you won’t be disappointed.
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