Crime Scene: ADRIAN MCKINTY Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly. Review and overview by Karen Chisholm
Part history lesson, part social exploration, the Sean Duffy series from Irish-Australian writer Adrian McKinty is required crime fiction reading.
The Sean Duffy series was originally intended to be a trilogy, not surprisingly, given McKinty’s history with the Lighthouse Trilogy and the acclaimed (and stunning) Michael Forsythe/Bloomsday trilogy. Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly is Book 6, of the Duffy series, a clear indication of how well these books have been received.
The first book, released in 2012, was The Cold Cold Ground. It introduces Sean Duffy to the world – a Catholic copper in the Protestant-dominated police force of Northern Ireland in 1981, smack bang in the middle of the Troubles. In short, sharp, beautifully evoked moments McKinty draws a picture of the complications of life at this time – the morning routine of coffee, brush, dress, check under the car for mercury tilt bombs, drive to work. The extreme violence and the hair triggers of sectarian life, juxtaposed with a nasty but surprisingly everyday investigation, gave McKinty an opportunity to craft both an evocative and complicated setting, and a central character who is flawed and engaging.
The second book in 2013 was I Hear the Sirens in the Street. Again the complications of life in the Troubles are contrasted with the ordinary life of a copper. This book weaves together the story of a torso in a suitcase and the day-to-day reality of police station bombings, no-go zones in your own city and Duffy’s personal life, impacted as it is by his background. Religion here is the ultimate definer and Duffy will always be an outsider in his own community.
In the Morning I’ll be Gone was released in 2014, with everyone at that time expecting this to be the final Sean Duffy outing, starting with what had become an expected element – a clever opening paragraph:
The beeper began to whine at 4.27pm on Wednesday, 25 September 1983. It was repeating a shrill C sharp at four-second intervals which meant – for those of us who had bothered to read the manual – that it was a Class 1 emergency. This was a general alert being sent to every off-duty policeman, police reservist and soldier in Northern Ireland. There were only five Class 1 emergencies and three of them were a Soviet nuclear strike, a Soviet invasion and what the civil servants who’d written the manual had nonchalantly called ‘an extra-terrestrial trespass’.
This novel is constructed around a locked-room scenario, with strong cultural and societal aspects built into a clever plot and some laugh-out-loud lines. The announcement of at least one more Duffy book after this one was greeted with a huge relief!
In 2015 Gun Street Girl was published, and was everything you’d expect. Given the original trilogy plan, it was interesting to see how McKinty would continue, given some of the threads that had been tied off in the third book. With nary a bump in sight, Duffy, his life, the Troubles and the world in which he operated continued, the dialogue and observational commentary as dry and pointed as it had been earlier, and the next book was eagerly anticipated.
Rain Dogs, published in 2016, explored what seems to be a favourite scenario of this author – the locked room mystery. Granted this room is a locked castle, and the coincidence of two locked room investigations in one copper’s career is something that even Duffy is leery of, but initially it seems as if suicide is the only possible answer. Combining the investigation of organised paedophilia groups – a phenomenon with a disturbing ring of truth, given what we now know about ‘celebrity’ behaviour – with some unexpected personal twists, much was expected then of the latest, and current Sean Duffy novel.
2017’s release is Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly, undoubtedly one of the better titles for a book in recent memory. Duffy’s personal life has moved on with a wallop in this book, but much of what’s wrong with society remains and things could go pear-shaped on every front if he’s not careful. While he’s tiptoeing through the challenges of a partner, a baby and a home life fraught with pressures, somebody’s taken to shooting people with bows and arrows – an unexpected twist in a culture prone to guns, bombs and loud forms of violence. Solving the crimes seems to have led Duffy to a lonely forest clearing, digging his own grave:
Blue dark, red dark, yellow dark.
Snow glinting in the hollows. The Great Bear and the Pole Star visible between zoetroping tree limbs.
The wood is an ancient one, a relic of the vast Holocene forest that once covered all of Ireland but which now has almost completely gone. Huge oaks half a millennium old; tangled, many-limbed hawthorn; red-barked horse chestnuts.
‘I don’t like it,’ the man behind the man with the gun says.
Taking a different approach, this book opens with a prologue of Duffy in that forest with a shovel, at the business end of a gun. How or if Duffy gets himself out of that particular situation takes a while to become clear. It also takes some time to identify what has got him into this position – investigating attacks on drug dealers? Attracting the interest of Internal Affairs and the IRA? Or disappointing a very wealthy potential father-in-law? Duffy might not have set out to annoy everyone in his path but he certainly seems to manage it, even with the police doctor:
‘You need to change your act, Sean. Alcohol consumption down to under twenty units a week. If you can’t quit try and get your cigarette smoking down to two or three a day and you will stop smoking marijuana immediately. If I see it showing up in your blood work again, I’ll have you on restricted duty permanently. I can’t have stoned coppers on the job, even detectives as capable as yourself. You should know better.’
Police At the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly combines personal and professional, good and bad, past and present, in equal measure. This time the investigative elements are more closely intertwined with the political climate than before, and the outcomes have the potential to blow Duffy’s cautiously piloted course right out of the water. Which means much intrigue for the next novel in what’s an absolutely outstanding series.
Adrian McKinty Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly Serpents Tail 2017 PB 253pp $29.99
Karen Chisholm blogs from http://www.austcrimefiction.org, where she posts book reviews well as author biographies.
To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here.