Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Age Reviews Gun Street Girl

By Adrian McKinty (Serpent's Tail)
Age review by Jeff Popple

Irish crime-fiction is currently enjoying something of a golden period with  several outstanding books being produced each year from a range of impressive authors such as Stuart Neville, Ken Bruen, Brian McGilloway and newcomer Anthony Quinn.

In recent years Adrian McKinty has also joined that mix. Born and raised in Northern Ireland, McKinty now  lives in Melbourne, where he writes some of the best Irish crime-fiction currently being produced.

Gun Street Girl is the fourth book in his series about Sean Duffy, a Catholic officer in the Royal Ulster Constabulary during the early 1980s.  Hated by both sides of the sectarian divide, Duffy lives in the middle of a Protestant housing estate, where he has to check his car for bombs each day and deal with the anti-Catholic sentiment of his neighbours.

Following the dramatic events in the last novel, In The Morning I'll Be Gone, Duffy's career is in limbo and he feels even more on the outer.   When he is called to the murder of a wealthy couple, Duffy is initially not too interested, especially when it appears that their son killed them and then committed suicide.

However, it does not seem not quite right and when a few simple inquiries lead to more deaths Duffy finds that he is caught up in something very nasty that involves the security services and a shadowy possibly rogue American intelligence operative.  

This is a  first-rate crime-thriller that commands attention from the opening pages and keeps the reader interested until the end.  The writing is tight and the story is very well plotted...The tale unfolds at a good pace, with McKinty balancing the details of the investigation, and Duffy's frequent drinking, with episodes of fast, violent action and frequent twists and turns.

As usual, the characterisations are very strong and McKinty excels in his depiction of the period and the bleak Northern Ireland townships and the problems of conducting a murder investigation "in a time of incipient civil war": "December. Christmas lights in Carrick. Season of Good Will. Black Santa. Cops taking regular hits from both sides now.  Assassination attempts from the Republicans. Death threats and drive-bys from the Prods. Bricks through policemen's windows."

He also displays a good sense of dark humour and has a quick mordant wit that succinctly and effectively sums up characters and scenes: "Did I describe Deirdre before? You know the type: fake tan, dyed black hair, green eyes, chubby, pretty.  There was a bruise under her right eye but you should see the other girl …"

Gun Street Girl is probably not as good as its predecessor, the excellent In The Morning I'll Be Gone, which won the 2014 Ned Kelly Award, but it is still a terrific read and has set an early high standard for this year's crime fiction.

Jeff Popple is a Canberra reviewer.