Adrian McKinty wrapped up his Troubles Trilogy earlier this year with his novel In The Morning I’ll Be Gone, thus concluding some of the most thought-provoking, historically well-grounded, and satisfying crime fiction trilogies ever written. For this month’s international crime fiction post, we have decided to profile McKinty’s trilogy but with a special emphasis on his recent concluding volume.
Few trilogies are able to take a set of characters and a few plot twists and slowly add on all the world’s cares until you a have a sweeping condemnation of an entire society. Phillip Kerr’s Berlin Noir Trilogy did this for Germany in the thirties. John Le Carré’s Smiley Trilogy, consisting of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy, and Smiley’s People, did this for the winding down Cold War in the 70’s. And Adrian McKinty’s Troubles Trilogy does this for the height of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland in the 80’s.
McKinty’s three Detective Sean Duffy novels seamlessly integrate multiple aspects of Northern Ireland’s troubles to provide a narrative that demonstrates all the intransigence and complexities of the conflict. His first novel in the series, The Cold Cold Ground, takes place in Northern Ireland at the height of the hunger strikes. Detective Sean Duffy is put on the case of what appears to be a serial killer targeting gay men, and may turn out to have larger political implications. McKinty’s second novel in the series, I Hear The Sirens In The Street, follows the mysterious case of a tanned torso found in a trunk, bringing the political intrigue to the fore. His third, In The Morning I’ll be Gone, follows Duffy on a quest to find an old classmate escaped from jail against the background of the Falklands conflict.
McKinty carefully designs his detective, Sean Duffy, to have an outsider perspective. Duffy is one of the few Catholics in a Protestant dominated police force. His minority viewpoint serves as a moral challenge to his generally bigoted and lazy coworkers, who view their prime purpose as backing up the British soldiers rather than solving crimes. Sean Duffy is also possessed of a manic curiosity that refuses to let him leave well enough alone, and constantly gets him in trouble for asking too many questions. He has a fairly realistic trajectory to his character arc over the trilogy, in keeping with the brutal realism of a Northern Irish setting.
In each book, he battles with his superiors over his right to solve politicized crimes in an apolitical way, and by the start of McKinty’s third book in the trilogy, Duffy has been busted down to patrol officer and no longer spends his days solving murders, but instead engages in mini bursts of violence with the IRA all over the six counties. Luckily for Sean, an old classmate escapes from prison and some oh-so-secretive Brits promise Duffy temporary reinstatement as detective inspector if he agrees to hunt his old friend down.
Duffy gets fairly reflective over the symbolism of such a search – his classmate had turned Duffy down when he tried to join the IRA right after Bloody Sunday, and in the parallel universe where Duffy did join, then they would have ended up as comrades instead of enemies. Instead, Duffy stayed out of the IRA just long enough to get sick of their tactics and join the police instead, and now he checks for car bombs daily instead of making them. This third book is not only a search for a parallel Duffy that could have existed, but also a confrontation with those parts of Sean’s mind that have never felt comfortable being a part of an oppressive occupying force that discriminates against him. A third part of Duffy, the part of him that loves confiscated hashish and the company of a good woman to the background soundscape of Lou Reed, is just happy to once again do a job that challenges him. Sean’s apolitical ability to excel is the aspect of the novel that really helps to provide perspective on the conflict. Duffy’s consistent inability to find a non politicized space for his talents represents the true tragedy of a sharply divided country.
Sean Duffy goes from valued member of the police force to Judas in three novels, through no fault of his own. The way that the British secret service manipulates Duffy into killing his old friend stands for the impossible choices of a troubled nation. McKinty certainly writes with a plague on both your houses mentality, and one gets the sense that he, too, must have felt the shackles of choosing sides in his youth. The British, however, come out looking worst of anyone. Duffy’s handler delivers a chilling speech at the end of the novel summarizing the entire conflict, and it’s no disservice to the rest of the novel to quote a little bit here:
“I’ll tell you a little story. After victory in the Franco-Prussian war, an adjutant went to General Von Moltke and told him that his name would ring through the ages with the greatest generals in history, with Napoleon, with Caesar, with Alexander. But Moltke shook his head sadly and explained that he could never be considered a great general because he had ‘never conducted a retreat.’…That’s what we’ve been doing since the first disasters on the Western Front in the First World War. Conducting as orderly a retreat as possible from the apogee of empire. In most cases we’ve done quite well, in some cases – India, for example – we buggered it.” (307)
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