Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty is October’s Irish Times Book Club pick
Edgar Award-winning thriller is fifth in Sean Duffy series about a Catholic RUC man
Adrian McKinty: “one of Britain’s great contemporary crime writers and the Sean Duffy books are his masterpiece,” according to Ian Rankin
Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty is October’s Irish Times Book Club pick. The Edgar Award-winning thriller is the fifth in the Carrickfergus-born author’s Sean Duffy series about a Catholic RUC man set in Troubles-era Northern Ireland.
Acclaimed by many as the best in the series, it was also shortlisted for the 2016 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, the 2016 Ned Kelly Award and the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award 2016.
The first Sean Duffy novel, The Cold Cold Ground, won the 2013 Spinetingler Award. Originally intended as a trilogy, the extended series concluded with this year’s Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly.
McKinty is one of Britain’s great contemporary crime writers and the Sean Duffy books are his masterpiece - Ian Rankin
“McKinty is one of Britain’s great contemporary crime writers and the Sean Duffy books are his masterpiece,” said fellow crime writer Ian Rankin, one of several writers including Brian McGilloway and Val McDermid who will be contributing articles about McKinty throughout the month, along with an essay by the author himself and another from a serving Catholic PSNI officer, which will be published anonymously as his life is still under threat from dissident paramilitaries.
The series will culminate in a public interview with McKinty conducted by Irish Times Books Editor Martin Doyle in Belfast’s Europa Hotel (Europe’s most bombed etc) on Saturday, October 28th, at 1pm as part of the inaugural NOIRELAND International Crime Fiction Festival, which runs from October 27th-29th. The podcast of the interview will be available on October 30th.
McKinty studied law at Warwick University and philosophy at Oxford University before emigrating to New York City in the early ’90s. He found work as a builder, barman and bookstore clerk before becoming a high school English teacher in Denver, Colorado. In 2009 he and his family moved to Melbourne, Australia.
“It is broadly accepted that the emergence of crime fiction set in Northern Ireland was only possible once the Troubles were over,” Declan Hughes wrote in his Irish Times review of Rain Dogs. “Adrian McKinty’s acclaimed Seán Duffy series sometimes feels like a contrarian challenge to that position, following as it does a Catholic RUC detective based in Carrickfergus through the 1980s. With Rain Dogs, we’re up to 1987 and, speaking of contrarianism, what better case for hard-boiled DI Duffy than a locked room mystery?
McKinty has all the virtues: smart dialogue, sharp plotting, sense of place, well-rounded characters and a nice line in what might be called cynical lyricism
“When journalist Lily Bigelow is found dead at Carrickfergus Castle, suicide seems, if unlikely, the only possible solution. But her notebook is missing and Duffy keeps his nerve, charting the movements of a party of visiting Finnish industrialists whose visit Lily was recording, first to a local brothel and then to a thinly disguised Kincora Boys Home. With a flying visit to Broadmoor to interview Jimmy Savile and a near-fatal trip to the Arctic tip of Finland, DI Duffy stays light on his feet and, if he doesn’t quite get his man, a shadowy network of spooks ensure that his man is got.
“McKinty has all the virtues: smart dialogue, sharp plotting, sense of place, well-rounded characters and a nice line in what might be called cynical lyricism (“Rain. Wind. The afternoon withering like a piece of fruit in an Ulster pantry.”)
If Duffy’s relentless patter occasionally makes you feel like you’re trapped in a lift with a stand-up comedian, well, those dreary steeples cry out for a little antic distraction. Be warned, though. Rain Dogs is Gateway McKinty: you won’t stop here.”
The fact that Sean Duffy finds himself investigating his second locked-room mystery becomes something of a running joke
Declan Burke, Hughes’ partner in crime fiction reviewing, wrote: “The internal tension of the early Sean Duffy stories (a Catholic policeman viewed with suspicion by his largely Protestant and frequently sectarian colleagues) is no longer a factor in the series, given that Duffy has long since proven himself a capable, if occasionally maverick, detective.
“Indeed, the Troubles barely intrude on the events of Rain Dogs, even if the story, as is generally the case with the Duffy novels, is rooted in historical events. Despite the dark subject matter, Rain Dogs makes for a breezy, blackly humorous read, particularly when McKinty has Duffy hold forth on his home town: ‘Carrickfergus had an embarrassment of abandoned factories that had been set up in the optimistic sixties, closed in the pessimistic seventies and were on the verge of ruin, now that we were in the apocalyptic eighties.’
“The fact that Sean Duffy finds himself investigating his second locked-room mystery becomes something of a running joke. Duffy spends half the story telling us that he is not Miss Marple, Gideon Fell, Inspector Maigret, Hercule Poirot, or any other fictional refugee from the Golden Age of locked-room mysteries. He protests too much, although it’s fair to say Sean Duffy is more typical of the conventional hardboiled detective than he is of the Golden Age’s sleuths, a classic anti-authority loner who struggles to sustain any personal relationship other than the one he maintains with the nearest bottle or mind-altering substance. Which is to say, Adrian McKinty is steeped in the crime novel’s lore and traditions; what is equally clear is the pleasure he takes in exploring the parameters of the police procedural, subverting expectations and poking fun at the tropes and conventions (chapters titled ‘Ed McBain’s Notebook’ and ‘Jimmy Savile’s Caravan’ give a flavour of the irreverent approach).
“The most enjoyable aspect of the novel, however, is McKinty’s unsentimental prose, a stark style that employs a terse, brutal poetry to evoke startling imagery. ‘I walked past the wreck of the Volvo,” Duffy tells us in the wake of a car bomb that has just killed Chief Inspector McBain. “The rear of the vehicle was completely gone and the rest was like some kind of abstract sculpture that Ballard might have liked. A headless torso covered with a blanket was in the driver’s seat.’
“All told, it’s a deliciously readable tale, as McKinty blends a fiendish locked-room mystery into a traditional police procedural and sends Sean Duffy jetting off to London, Finland and Dublin in pursuit of justice on behalf of Lily Bigelow. It may not be the most hard-hitting of this award-winning series (In the Morning I’ll Be Gone won Australia’s Ned Kelly Award in 2014), but Rain Dogs is arguably the most enjoyable Sean Duffy tale to date.”
Rain Dogs is published by Serpent’s Tail, at £7.99