A siren song from hard-boiled Belfast
‘Wait a minute, Doc,” says Marty McFly in the movie Back to the Future. “Are you telling me that you built a time machine . . . out of a DeLorean?”
That quote sets the scene for Adrian McKinty’s new novel, I Hear the Sirens in the Street. The second in his crime trilogy featuring Inspector Seán Duffy, the book is set in Belfast in the early 1980s, and the millionaire sports car manufacturer John DeLorean plays a cameo role.
For the Belfast-born author, who recently visited Ireland before returning to his current home in the Australian city of Melbourne, it was more like ‘Back to the Past’ – and not in a good way – as the sirens once again cranked up to full volume on Belfast’s streets.
“My God,” he says, “I must be bringing some massive jinx around with me. Belfast: rain and riots. Melbourne: fire and heat. I think I should start contacting people saying, ‘Pay me not to visit your city’.”
McKinty’s debut novel, Dead I Well May Be, was shortlisted for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award in 2004. It, too, was part of a trilogy with The Dead Yard and The Bloomsday Dead. He followed up with a young adult sci-fi series, The Lighthouse Land, The Lighthouse War and The Lighthouse Keepers.
“I love the trilogy form,” he says. “I like the idea that you can establish a character in book one. And then in the second part you can take the characters down to their darkest point. And then in the third part you have total freedom, either to give them redemption – or just to kill them.”
He pours himself a cup of tea, adds milk and sips. Here is a man who could do away with the likeable hero of I Hear the Sirens in the Street, Inspector Seán Duffy, in a heartbeat. A Catholic detective trying to keep body and soul intact in the maelstrom of Protestantism that is the RUC in the early 1980s, Duffy is armed with a black sense of humour, an eclectic library and a CD collection that includes Joy Division, Plastic Bertrand and Tom Waits – fans will have spotted that the title of the new book is a line from the song A Sweet Little Bullet from a Pretty Blue Gun.
It’s easy to see Duffy becoming as popular as Ian Rankin’s Rebus – the books have already been optioned for TV by the production company that made Messiah – but so far, McKinty has been fighting shy of committing himself to a long-running crime series.
“It’s a lot less challenging for the author – but also for the reader,” he says. “You know the character has got to live for the next book. Okay, there’s going to be trials and tribulations, but in the end everything’s gonna be fine. With a trilogy, you just don’t know.”
McKinty studied in England, and was heading for a lucrative career as a lawyer – until he spent a post-degree summer working with a criminal-defence team.