Thursday, December 21, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Police At The Station And They Don't Look Friendly by Adrian McKinty

Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly is the  sixth (and perhaps last?) book in the Inspector Sean Duffy series by Adrian McKinty. It is quite a corker, and probably the best in this quirky mystery thriller series set in Northern Ireland in the 1980s when "the Troubles" were at their peak. It is a good sign about the quality of these books that I had previously  said that the fifth book in the series, Rain Dogs, was clearly the best. (It was on my list of favorite books read in 2016.) The Duffy books just keep getting better and better!

The book begins with a scene where our protagonist is in such mortal peril that the reader is confronted with reality that this might be the end of the road for our favorite Catholic detective with the snobbish music tastes who has been trying to solve murders in a setting where religious factions (Catholics and Protestants) are frequently torturing and killing each other (and the forces trying to maintain order) with abandon.

However, after beginning with a literal bang, the next chapter is set in some unspecified amount of time in the past where we discover that Sean is living (in sin) with the mother of his months-old baby girl, Emma, and generally bored out of his mind with no murders to solve when a very strange one falls into his lap. (A drug dealer is shot to death with a crossbow, and it's the second time in as many days someone has been shot with such a medieval weapon.)

One feature of the Sean Duffy thrillers is that the plots get unbelievably complicated and they entangle people at highest levels of British and Irish society that one would not think that a local copper in a small suburb of Belfast (Carrickfergus) would have any chance of interacting with, let alone collaring. Another feature is the deployment of mystifying (to American ears and eyes) of Irish slang which gives the series a sense of verisimilitude and exoticism which is both appealing and off-putting (simultaneously!) The amusing titles of the books apparently come from lines from Tom Waits songs.

In Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly the fine line Duffy has been walking as a Catholic member of the occupying British police force (the Royal Ulster Constabulary) becomes untenable as many mutual enemies (such as the Catholic IRA, the Protestant paramilitaries and the British military establishment) decide the time has come to eliminate their common irritant, our "fenian" [an anti-Catholic slur] hero.

Mckinty pulled off an interesting bit of fore-shadowing by giving the reader a chance to grapple with Duffy's demise in the beginning of the novel before resolving the question of his main character's mortality in a way which is ultimately satisfying. (Yes, I am being deliberately vague to avoid spoilers.)

All of the above being said, if this is the final Duffy book I will not be sad or mad as I think McKinty has managed to bring Duffy through very many improbably survivable situations before and I have enjoyed the journey as long as it lasted. It is hard to see how McKinty could (or can) continue to sustain the increasingly high quality of the Duffy series if it were to continue. However, we will just have to wait and see!

Title: Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly
Adrian McKinty.

Paperback: 322 pages.
 Seventh Street Books.

Date Published: March 7, 2017.
Date Read: April 15, 2017.

★★  (5.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).

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