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  1. You become part of the Chain when your child is kidnapped. To get your child back, you have to pay a ransom, then identify and kidnap the next link in the Chain. Only when the next link kidnaps the link after that do you get your child back. And if your chosen link in the Chain breaks - by speaking to law enforcement or getting cold feet - you have to clean up the mess and form a new link. Even if the Chain breaks weeks or months later, you might have to get back into the field of play. Once you are in the Chain, you can never be free. This is all very implausible. But when you think it through, it just might be possible... The Chain is a hugely intelligent psychological thriller that depends upon parents’ willingness to do anything - absolutely whatever it takes - to protect their kids. So we see amateur, mum-and-dad kidnappers being manipulated into making threats, carrying them out and getting involved in very dark deeds. It is lurid and gory, but by focusing on the people and the emotions rather than the acts themselves, Adrian McKinty brings the reader along. There is no particular point where the reader says “that wouldn’t happen”. I have enjoyed McKinty’s novels before (especially the Sean Duffy series), and this one is as good or better than his previous material. I really couldn’t put this one down. *****
  2. Inspector Sean Duffy, token Catholic in the Carrickfergus RUC, is no stranger to murder. Rain Dogs is his fifth outing. In the preceding four novels, he has committed a long list of transgressions, has fallen out with many colleagues and most if his near neighbours have been caught up in previous investigations. This creates a fair amount of baggage that has to be disposed of at the start of each subsequent novel. One particular feature of Sean Duffy’s previous novels is the link between Carrickfergus crime and the big political picture. We have previously had the Brighton bombing, John de Lorean and Freddie Scappaticci. This one, set in 1987, is a bit different: the political events are national rather than Provincial and this allows Duffy and his team to go across the water – and ultimately to Oulu in Finland. Duffy, who has previously met Margaret Thatcher and Gerry Adams now gets to meet a genuine TV celebrity. Oh, and did I mention that the murder (there is a murder-suicide question for a long while but this is an Adrian McKinty novel so the reader is never in any real doubt) is a locked room mystery? It is a bit of a cliché, and one that the reader will work out much sooner than Duffy (smoking lots of dope doesn’t make for quick thinking). It feels too theatrical, and when the mystery is finally explained it all seems a bit, um, improbable. But really, the crimes are just a pretext to join a middle aged bachelor behaving badly in 1980s Northern Ireland, smoking, drinking and playing tunes. To that extent, the novel fully delivers on expectations. ***00
  3. This is the fourth Sean Duffy police procedural and it's the point where something really clicked for me. The series weaves real life, historic events into a parochial, Carrickfergus based crime spree. There is invention and, as Adrian McKinley notes in the epilogue, he has compressed events so they unfold quickly when in real life they were slow burning. But the effortless placing of these newsworthy events into a fictitious plot is really unusual. What felt uncomfortable in the first three novels now just feels right. So in this one, we find Inspector Sean Duffy investigating what appears to be a double killing and suicide in deepest East Antrim and quickly getting enmeshed in international sleaze and corruption. Duffy, as is his wont, is torn between personal corruption, doing the right thing and doing what the greater powers suggest. As he flip flops between these paths, he makes enemies and fails to take any path to its conclusion. Gun Street Girl has a great sense not only of time, but also of place. The locations are perfectly described and create a sense of history as so much has changed since the 1985 setting. There are also forays to Oxford and Ayr which capture the places perfectly. One thing that I had not fully appreciated from previous Sean Duffy novels is that the titles all come from Tom Waits songs. Gun Street Girl is too obvious to miss, especially when you know the fifth is called Rain Dogs. Knowing this makes you appreciate Duffy's musical taste all the more. A man who shares my tastes in music, whisky and literature can't be all that bad, even if he is a Peeler. I am glad to have read Gun Street Girl and look forward to reading Rain Dogs very much. ****0
  4. The Sun Is God is an odd novel on a couple of fronts. Firstly, it is written by Adrian McKinty, who is best known for writing novels about fictional crimes set in Ireland or the United States in contemporary times or the recent past. There is usually a high body count and the narrative darts back and forth between the police procedural and the detective’s personal life. But this is a fictionalisation of a true crime from 1906 in German New Guinea, wherever that is (actually part of PNG today). Aside from the prelude, there’s only one body and precious little policing. Secondly, the pacing is really offbeat. It takes a full quarter of the novel to get around to a body at all – we meet Will Prior, our detective, in South Africa at the time of the Boer War, move with him to New Guinea as he sets up a smallholding with his indigenous wife Siwa, and join him at dinner with the formidable Queen Emma. Then, and only then, does he get sent off to a small island community of cocovores – German eccentrics who have chosen to worship the sun, eat nothing but coconuts and dress as nature intended – to investigate the death of a relatively recent recruit to the cocovores. Whilst the pretext for the novel is the criminal investigation, this comes almost as an afterthought; the real focus is on the bizarre life and philosophy of the community and its juxtaposition with the values and aspirations of pre-World War I Europe. When the big reveal comes, it is an anti-climax based more on conjecture than any in-depth sleuthing. The characters that stand out are Will, and Miss Pullen-Burry, a writer who is sent to accompany Will and Captain Kessler in their investigation into the cocovores. Will stands out mostly because, as a first person narrator, he is able to share his hopes and fears with the reader. Miss Pullen-Burry is given the luxury of narration only in the dying scenes, but manages to keep a foot in both camps – never quite being allied to the detectives, and seeming on the verge of joining the cocovores. We see her slowly become more and more immersed in their culture. And that's a culture that includes free love and heroin... The other characters tend to blend together somewhat. Sure, they are each given distinguishing features (and since most of them are naked men, there are limited opportunities for those features to take) and seem to serve pretty interchangeable roles. Fair enough, but it should not have been so difficult to tell Kessler apart from the cocovores; the fact that it was is perhaps further evidence that the novel was about the community rather than the crime. The Sun Is God was an interesting novel, perhaps having something in common with The Wicker Man, and did give some insight into a long-forgotten outpost of the German Empire. But it also felt slightly too brief, slightly too flimsy, and the balance was not quite there. Still worth a quick read, though. ****0
  5. In The Morning is a lurid, over the top police procedural set in 1980s Northern Ireland. Our hero, Sean Duffy, has been busted down to sergeant and has been posted to the South Armagh border due to past indiscretions Sean is not happy, despite the helicopter rides. In a roundabout way - and without giving too much away - Sean Duffy finds himself given one last chance to prove himself. He is put on a mission to find a missing man. This gets him out of Armagh and back knocking on doors of Derry Housing Executive flats and making furtive trips across to Donegal. So far so good. But then Duffy gets involved in investigating a coid case murder of young woman who had been minding a bar on the shores of Lough Neagh near Antrim. Things go a bit Jonathan Creek as Duffy wrestles with a locked room mystery. To be honest, it all feels a bit improbable, and the relation of this plot-ette to the main story is contrived. But it is also a bit of fun. The main manhunt, once we get back to it, seems to be stuck on with sellotape. But despite the far-from-seamless join, the denouement is well done. There is an OMG moment when you realise the main historical event it is all leading up to, and Adrian McKinty has a nice touch in blending subsequent reality with some personal speculation. These end scenes rescue what would have been a fairly poor novel and redeem it int a fairly good novel. I still don't believe in Sean Duffy. He doesn't act or think like a policeman. His living arrangements, walking up his front driveway on a loyalist housing estate in riot gear is just not the way things were. Buying dope off the crime squad ditto. And I know Adrian McKinty will read this and say 'but I created this fiction and if I want to have policeman walking up their driveways in riot gear I can', but when you trade on verisimilitude, it just punches a bit of a hole in the suspension of disbelief. Adrian McKinty is worth reading. He tells a good story and his style is engaging. However, I do wonder whether he could sometime do something slightly less lurid. ​****0 (being generous)
  6. Adrian McKinty is a mean storyteller. He has something that makes the reader want to turn the page, want to read just one more chapter. He creates an eerie atmosphere and tension in the right places. How he does this is a bit of a mystery since his stories seem to have plots full of holes and anachronisms bursting forth at every opportunity. In Sirens, we join up again with Sean Duffy, now a Detective Inspector in Carrick CID. And now it's 1982 - the Falklands War. And, more significantly, the brief period of production of a luxury sports car in Northern Ireland - the DeLorean DMC12. Happy memories... Inspector Duffy's still copping off with witnesses and suspects but in this novel, they are all female. It seems that Duffy's earlier doubts about his sexuality have receded - presumably in the interests of marketability. And Duffy, the lone Catholic policeman in East Antrim is still living openly in a loyalist housing estate, listed in the phone book and hob-nobbing with the local UDA Commander. There are anachronisms aplenty. McKinty has moved from Ireland to St Kilda via the United States and it shows. Duffy calls people "mate" and worries about the "sheilas". He drinks "vodka gimlets" and people carry guns everywhere. Even in the first paragraph we have garbage and guano. As a policeman, he lacks credibility. He purloins drugs from the evidence room to use at home; he ignores orders; he has a woman arrested for no obvious reason. But despite these failings, he is happy to take leave and travel at his own expense to solve cases. No worries (as Duffy might say in a couple of years' time), the cracking pace will make all but the harshest readers forgive these failings. The story itself has a great mix of mysterious murder, police corruption, national politics and tie ins to real events for verisimilitude. Much of the novel is set in Islandmagee which is a very strange place indeed - located tantalisingly close to civilisation at the dead end of a single track road. The depiction of insular Antrim communities is faithful. The occasional foray into Dunmurry is more mixed - the terrible hotel sounded true to life but the idea that the police could be pelted with a never ending hail of noxious missiles just seemed slightly too much. Look, Northern Ireland deserves a good police procedural writer. Adrian McKinty doesn't quite deliver - he is too lurid, too wide of the mark and too anachronistic. But he's still great fun. ****0
  7. Northern Ireland has never been terribly liberal. In particular, sexual minorities have had a very tough time and until the last few years (if even now) it was not possible for an openly gay man to hold any position of status. So, in 1981, amidst the backdrop of the Hunger Strikes, we are supposed to believe in a serial killer who is identifying and murdering gay men in the greater Carrickfergus region (Carrickfergus being little more than two streets and a castle). And sent in to investigate the murders is Detective Sergeant (yes, Sergeant) Sean Duffy. Duffy is a Catholic policeman - quite a rarity in 1981. Even rarer, he seems to be in the phone book, live on a Loyalist housing estate and rock up home in a landrover, wearing uniform and brandishing a sub-machine gun. He used his own car for work and would ostentatiously check the underside of his car with a mirror every morning - in full view of the neighbours. Truly, Northern Ireland wasn't like this. Even protestant policemen tried to hide their profession from their neighbours. And credibility is further shot when Duffy decides to investigate the muders by identifying the local public loos as a cottaging area and exploring his preferences through a passionate kiss with a rent boy therein - who would have been a suspect in a muder case. This wouldn't have happened in Brighton in 2011, let alone in Carrickfergus in 1981. As the investigation progresses, we find Duffy having conversations with the likes of Gerry Adams and William Whitelaw. Yeah, right. And then up pops Freddie Scavanni - surely this couldn't be Scap himself? One presumes the use of a pseudonym was simply to stop West Belfast's favourite builder suing the publisher for defamation. It therefore comes as no surprise when Scavanni reveals himself to be Stakeknife. It is more of a surprise, though, when Scavanni's story diverges dramatically from that of Scappaticci. Why invoke a real person in order to have them do fictional things. All a bit rum. It also feels somewhat odd to find the IRA's Nutting Squad referred to as the Force Research Unit (which was actually a part of British Intelligence). The IRA Internal Security Unit (or ISU) would never have referred to itself as anything to do with force - for the IRA, "forces" were always British. There are plenty of other inconsistencies, added to which the overall plot involving senior paramilitaries defies belief; and the ending is plain ridiculous. This novel is bad on so many levels, yet it does remain readable. Not quite sure how that happens, but Adrian McKinty does seem to be technically good at telling stories, even if he uses it to tell bad stories. He has lived away from Ireland for many years now - first in the US and now in Melbourne. It shows. Perhaps he would do better to set his stories in resent day St Kilda which would be easier for him to check out, ratherthan delving into his faulty memories of thirty years ago. **000
  8. [i received a free review copy of this book through the Amazon Vine programme] Adrian McKinty specialises in crime novels where baddies rise up from the pavements at every turn and where the bodies pile up in mounds. In The Bloomsday Dead, we find Michael Forsythe - hero of two previous McKinty outings - holed up in Lima trying to hide from his enemies. And he has plenty of enemies - the kith and kin of those he has killed or conned in previous adventures. Forsythe is tracked down by Bridget Callaghan, a former lover, former adversary whose boyfriend Forsythe had killed way back in the day. Bridget’s daughter Siobhán has gone missing in Belfast and Forythe has a chance to earn his freedom from the vendetta by tracing the daughter. The action takes place on Bloomsday, the annual celebration of the day James Joyce wrote about in Ulysses. For added poignancy, this was the 100th anniversary, and just as Bloom had wandered Dublin looking for Stephen Dedalus, so Forsythe wanders in Dublin and Belfast looking for Siobhán. McKinty is Irish, but has lived in the USA for most of his adult life. That’s where most of his novels have been set, and it is a departure to return to Ireland. McKinty’s Ireland is one where the dogs on the streets know the names of all the gang leaders; where there is a pecking order of gangs and politics rarely raises its head; where the local paramilitary groups are in awe of Bridget Callaghan, the boss of the New York Irish Mob. This doesn’t quite ring true. Neither, I’m afraid, does the body count or the low-key reaction to it. It’s not that the writing is poor - it is well written and has some level of structure to it. It’s just that the constraint of containing all the action into the space of 20 hours or so makes for a frenetic series of high pressure encounters without much space for character development or basic reflection. There is some reflection on long ago events, principally to fill in details from the two previous novels in the trilogy (and, if I’m not mistaken, some text that looks very familiar...) but no opportunity to take stock of the current day’s events. The tight timeframe also makes for improbabilities - could Forsythe really have had his abdomen sliced open, pass out, recover and proceed to brawling, running, negotiating and intuiting all day? I think this is a fair story, told in a pacy way with some good ideas. It just hasn’t quite been brought off. The story isn’t quite worthy of the concept. ***
  9. After a few pages of this I nearly didn't bother. A Northern Irish teenage lad gets his dole stopped after he's pictured on the front page of the Belfast Telegraph doing some cash-in-hand work for the glaziers after a bomb explosion. Abruptly, we're in Harlem where he's wangled a deal as a general dogsbody to some mid-level Irish crime hoodlum. So far it sounds good, but it's told in first person past-tense, and many times he does a flash-forward. Like this, as he's chatting up a girl: And we're only on page 41. I'm not sure I like the style, letting us know explicitly what's going to happen. A few hints maybe, but here it's right in you face. But I'm glad I stuck with it. There's a great part of the book set in Mexico, and he's great at writing about Harlem in the early nineties. Well worth a look if you like those anti-hero types causing mayhem and much blood letting among friends and foes alike.
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