–Post by Molly
When I finished reading Adrian McKinty’s Troubles Trilogy last year, it was with a heavy heart. The Cold Cold Ground, I Hear The Sirens In The Street and In The Morning I’ll Be Gone together formed the greatest noir trilogy and one of the best trilogies, period, that I have ever read. I was so sad to say farewell to Detective Sean Duffy, with his Catholic-policeman-in-Northern-Ireland outsider perspective and his (very noir) ability to take everyone’s punches and still get his in the end. After finishing up his Troubles Trilogy, McKinty took some time off from Northern Ireland to write the excellent historical thriller The Sun Is God, set in the 1890s on a remote island taken over by (possibly murderous) opium-drinking sun-worshipers.
Lucky for me, McKinty decided to bring Duffy back to the page in his explosive new sequel to the trilogy, Gun Street Girl. McKinty sets Gun Street Girl in 1985 against the backdrop of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, Margaret Thatcher’s attempt at easing hostilities between Great Britain and Ireland that quickly sparked riots and demonstrations by Ulstermen in response to the new spirit of cooperation.
McKinty truly believes in the “starts bad, gets worse” definition for noir. Duffy spends the first few pages of the novel up all night, dealing first with a botched arrest for gun smuggling, then a fight at a bordello, and after a couple hours of sleep, a jurisdictional fight over the right to investigate a double murder. Duffy’s colleagues immediately peg the wealthy family’s wastrel son as prime suspect, but Duffy has his suspicions. The wealthy couple’s scion ends up dead of an apparent suicide, quickly followed by the seemingly self-inflicted suffocation of his girlfriend. Duffy soon finds himself embroiled in an increasingly convoluted case with difficult-to-arrest suspects and more cover-ups and incompetence than the Nixon Administration.
McKinty’s signature juxtapositions – local and global, Catholic and Protestant, police and paramilitaries, austerity and excess – are all present in Gun Street Girl, where McKinty continues to astound me with his ability to demonstrate the interconnected, tangled relationships and blurred lines between perceived opposites. Gun Street Girl also continues to demonstrate McKinty’s penchant for complex plots, caustic dialogue, and devastating conclusions.
Sean Duffy is still mixing together more alcohol and pharmaceuticals than an Irvine Welsh character, still solving cases for his own satisfaction rather than any trust in the legal system, and his Northern Irish context still breathes new life into the tired convention of the alcoholic detective risking all to solve a case. Adrian McKinty’s work is reminiscent of the 1940s and 50s classic P.I. novels. I make this comparison not based on shared subject material, but because first, Duffy has the impeccable taste and snide intellectualism of Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe, and second, McKinty’s novels are, in my mind, already elevated to canonical status.
McKinty’s work is a formidable defense of the continuing relevance of genre fiction. McKinty takes the time-tested conventions of the mystery genre and builds a narrative utterly unique and compelling over them. He uses the structure of crime fiction as a spur to his own creativity and as set of limiting factors that condense the sprawl of Northern Irish history into a series of tight, interconnected narratives with no loose ends. In short, McKinty has learned from the masters, and in my opinion, now is one.
You can find copies of Gun Street Girl on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. For an interview with the author, check up on our page later on this week.