The Cold Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty

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The Cold Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty

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Category: Crime
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: The first of a planned trilogy of police procedural stories set in 1980s Northern Ireland featuring Catholic cop Sean Duffy. Can he solve to seemingly unrelated cases while there's rioting on the streets?
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 352 Date: January 2012
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781846688225

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The Cold Cold Ground is the first of a planned trilogy of police procedural novels featuring Sean Duffy. Set in 1980s Northern Ireland it's a little reminiscent of the TV show Life on Mars, full of reminders of the music and events of the period that evokes nostalgia in those who lived through it. In all good police procedural novels, the hero has to have a 'thing' that sets him apart. With Duffy it is that he is a Catholic in a predominantly Protestant police force. What this means is that no one trusts him on either side of the religious divide. And as this is set during the worst of the 'troubles' with hunger strikes and rioting on the streets, not to mention car bombs and other acts of violence, this is a big issue for him.

In terms of books, there are few things worse than a novel from a writer who you hugely admire that doesn't quite live up to your expectations and sadly, The Cold Cold Ground was one such book for me. Adrian McKinty's style is always strong on dialogue and packed with short, pithy sentences that keep the pace high, but Duffy's story is told in the first person and, particularly in the earlier third of the book, is very heavy in the 'I did this', 'I said that' kind of vein. It sounds a daft thing to criticise a first person narrative for over use of the personal pronoun and sure, some of this is inevitable, but combined with McKinty's style the effect is disconcertingly childish. Not that the writing or content is of course, but the constant 'I did this' doesn't read as well as it might if the story had been told in the third person. To be fair, this becomes less of a problem later in the book.

The other problem - I'll get to the good stuff in a minute, because there is plenty of good stuff here too - is that it if you are reading a police procedural book then I kind of want the police procedure to reveal the facts of the crime(s). Here the main culprit ends up blurting out everything that Duffy has got close to solving but never did. Duffy only thinks that he may be the guilty party and then that person goes and confesses all which left me feeling a bit cheated.

Duffy has two cases to solve, which may or may not be related. The main one centres on what appears to be a homophobic serial killer at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in Northern Ireland while the second involves the disappearance of a young girl who is the ex-wife of one of the hunger strikers. Both appear to be unrelated both to each other and to the 'troubles' - but perhaps not. The serial killer story line involves a lot of homophobic language which was rife at the time which some may find offensive by today's more enlightened standards, but McKinty is very good at evoking the period and this is, to my mind, entirely justified.

McKinty is also good at what might be called 'locker room banter' within the police force. In fact, dialogue is always one of his strengths. He has a good ear for it and it's often very amusing. Moreover, the author has previous form in writing trilogies with his excellent series featuring the anti-hero, the hitman Michael Forsythe. Writing trilogies is not easy but there is evidence to suggest that McKinty will carry this off with aplomb. In fact this edition ends with a taster for the next in the series I Hear Sirens in the Street and it looks promising. Despite my reservations about The Cold Cold Ground, I will still be first in the queue to read the next installment. This may not be his best work, in my opinion, but it's still highly readable and entertaining.

Out thanks as ever to the kind people at Serpent's Tail for sending us a copy of this book.

If the author is unfamiliar to you and you want to sample a stand alone book by him, then Falling Glass is an excellent read.

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