Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Sydney Morning Herald Reviews Rain Dogs (again)

Sue Turnbull reviews Rain Dogs in the daily version of the SMH. (It was also reviewed in the Saturday paper 2 weeks ago.)

Australian crime writer Adrian McKinty is on a roll.  His last novel in the Sean Duffy series set during the troubles in Northern Ireland, Gun Street Girl, has been shortlisted  for an Edgar award by the Mystery Writers of America.  The latest, Rain Dogs, does not disappoint. The dark humour, the verbal jests, and the seamless insertion of real historical figures and events into the fictional narrative are all superbly sustained.

Rain Dogs opens with Duffy on crowd control as Muhammad Ali, the boxer who could float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, steps "lepidopterously" onto the tarmac in front of the Belfast City Hall.  Everyone is there, including Bono in his cuban heels, and the Reverend Ian Paisley with his "elderly band of evangelical parishioners, singing their discontent in dour Presbyterian hymnals and determinedly joyless psalmody". Also present are the disgruntled skinheads from the National Front, "yelling abuse from the protest-pen that had been rigged up for them next to Marks and Spencer".
The detail in this historical reconstruction is delicious. Ali has them in thrall. As Duffy wryly notes: "He had shadow-boxed, he had waved, he had lied and told them their city was aesthetically pleasing.  He could have run for Mayor on a Nation of Islam ticket and won on a first-round voice vote of the council." Ali, Paisley and the National Front have very little to do with this story. They are simply there to set the scene in a cleverly contrived vignette that locates Duffy in a murder mystery that will brush with the reality of Northern Ireland's economic future, the dubious career of the notorious British paedophile Jimmy Saville, and poignantly illustrate the consequences of the on-going stand-off between the Catholic church and legalised abortion.

Duffy's latest investigation begins with abandonment. His girlfriend of six months, the one who shares his bad taste in jokes but not his love for Elvis, is moving out.  Duffy is bereft – he really likes Beth even though he can't get her new-fangled kettle to work, and there is the slight matter of a 10-year age difference.

Fortunately, distraction arrives in the case of the missing wallet. This is a petty crime, but the wallet belongs to a Finnish VIP who is part of a trade delegation looking to buy one of the region's abandoned factories and secure Northern Ireland's future in mobile phones.  Everyone wants the Finns to be happy, and Detective Inspector Duffy is on hand to help. But then there's the complication of the spunky female reporter covering the Finnish trade mission for The Financial Times who is discovered dead in Carrickfergus Castle in what looks like suicide.  Duffy can't help but think that this case looks suspiciously like a repetition of the locked-room mystery he had to deal with in Gun Street Girl. This can hardly be a coincidence, Duffy muses.  Nor is it.

There is so much to enjoy in this book: Duffy's musical asides (the snide remarks about U2), the great banter between Duffy and his colleagues, and the walk-on role of Duffy's buxom neighbour, Mrs Campbell, and her cakes. And the conclusion takes Duffy and the reader somewhere completely unexpected. This is clever historical fiction with the bite of social commentary and the joy of a crime series at its zenith.