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The Cold Cold Ground (Detective Sean Duffy…

The Cold Cold Ground (Detective Sean Duffy 1) (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Adrian McKinty

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1701669,943 (3.94)20
Title:The Cold Cold Ground (Detective Sean Duffy 1)
Authors:Adrian McKinty
Info:Serpent's Tail (2012), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Read in 2012, Ireland

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The Cold, Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty (2012)




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A hard-boiled mystery from Northern Ireland that takes place during the "troubles". This audio version was ruined by a very poor narrator, Gerard Doyle. He may be of Irish origins, but tried so very hard to do a Belfast accent that it ended up monotone. The tough cop sounded feminine. Ridiculous analogies such as "Belfast was spread out before me like a great slab of meat in a butcher's yard" stood out with magnified importance. I may read more by the author but for now I'm done with McKinty. ( )
  VivienneR | Dec 8, 2014 |
This is Belfast in 1981 when the prisoners on hunger strike in The Maze fuelled nightly sectarian clashes between the IRA, UVF & police. Imagine living in a place where plumes of black smoke, burning buses, army check points & military helicopters are parts of daily life. And if you're a cop, our day also includes checking under your car each morning for a bomb.
Especially if you're Catholic like DS Sean Duffy. He lives among the prods in Carrickfergus & taking him out would be a coup for either side. He's smart, well educated & witty and mostly accepted by the old guard at the station. He's only been there a few weeks & is about to be tested.
Amid the general chaos, they catch an odd murder case. A UVF man is found shot in a burned out car with his hand cut off. Usually that indicates the victim was an informer, the lowest of the low but there are also decidedly homosexual undertones to his death.
The same night, a young woman thought to have run away months earlier is found hanging in the woods. Her ex-husband is one of the hunger strikers & it looks like suicide. When a second gay man is found dead, Sean is certain they have a psycho serial killer on their hands & it's almost a relief to investigate something not related to The Troubles.
With colleagues Matty & Crabbie, Sean begins to dig into the lives of all 3 people. It's not easy. The prod & catholic rebels are more interested in bombs & riots as they fight Thatcher's army. And every time one of the strikers dies, all hell breaks loose as another martyr is born.
I was struck by a couple of things as soon as I began reading. One is the atmosphere. You immediately feel the claustrophobic tension & fear of what is essentially a police state. The prose is evocative & flows with realistic descriptions of the city & its' colourful residents. These are resilient people who are just trying to survive while friends & family are killed and the city burns around them.
I also really enjoyed the dialogue. It's sharp, witty & suitable for the time. Colloquial terms are used throughout but easy to understand in context. Sean in particular has many of the best lines from laugh out loud personal observations to dryly sarcastic comments to colleagues. The humour provides the perfect foil to the unrelenting drama surrounding the investigations & the inclusions of real life characters such as Gerry Adams, Ian Paisley & Mrs. Thatcher add a genuine sense of place.
Two minor quibbles. First, Sean is apparently a chick magnet which is understandable due to his personality but I thought his relationship with a lovely pathologist would have been enough. A brief fling with a colleague was unnecessary (perhaps being in constant danger gives people an excuse to act out their frisky fantasies).
Second, the investigation of the murders was convoluted enough with all the secrets, hidden agendas & alliances but toward the end, all of a sudden an outside intelligences agency is added to the mix. It was superfluous to the plot & is used by the author as a deus ex machina. Sean's reaction & subsequent actions seemed out of character & led to a rather abrupt ending that telegraphs big changes to come in the next instalment.
Still, I really enjoyed this due to the setting & well developed characters. it's the first of a trilogy & I look forward to the next two. ( )
  RowingRabbit | Sep 14, 2014 |

A Catholic cop tracks a killer operating amidst the sectarian violence of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Spring 1981. Northern Ireland. Belfast on the verge of outright civil war. The Thatcher government has flooded the area with soldiers but nightly there are riots, bombings, and sectarian attacks.

In the midst of the chaos, Sean Duffy, a young, witty, Catholic detective in the almost entirely Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary, is trying to track down a serial killer who is targeting gay men. As a Catholic policeman, Duffy is suspected by both sides and there are layers of complications. For one thing, homosexuality is illegal in Northern Ireland in 1981. Then he discovers that one of the victims was involved in the IRA, but was last seen discussing business with someone from the Protestant UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force).

Fast-paced, evocative, and brutal, The Cold Cold Ground is a brilliant depiction of Belfast at the height of the Troubles and a cop caught in the cross fire.

"If Raymond Chandler had grown up in Northern Ireland, The Cold Cold Ground is what he would have written."
—Times of London

"Set against a backdrop of riots in the middle of the 1981 hunger strikes and the death of Bobby Sands, McKinty creates a marvellous sense of time and place; an evocation of darkness and horror, of corruption and collusion, . . . the immediacy of death and the cheapness of life. . . . There will be many readers waiting for the next adventure of the dashing and intrepid Sergeant Duffy."
—Irish Independent

"A literary thriller that is as concerned with exploring the poisonously claustrophobic demi-monde of Northern Ireland during the Troubles, and the self-sabotaging contradictions of its place and time, as it is with providing the genre's conventional thrills and spills. The result is a masterpiece of Troubles crime fiction: had David Peace, Eoin McNamee and Brian Moore sat down to brew up the great Troubles novel, they would have been very pleased indeed to have written The Cold Cold Ground."
—Irish Times
My take...

If there’s a book that might kick start my reading this year which has been laboured at best, this could well be the one. Smart, funny, interesting, compelling. I’ve enjoyed a couple of his previous books though it’s been a while since I last read him – Fifty Grand back in 2009. Too long really.

Funny how I love some authors, but don’t read them often enough…..why is that? Possibly because part of me still wants to savour the anticipation of opening a book from a favourite. Once I’ve started reading it though that feeling disappears. I suppose in some perverse way I enjoy the books I don’t read nearly as much as the ones I do………bizarre!

Anyway, I think this one could possibly be one of my best books of the year.

Northern Ireland, 1981, hunger strikes, Bobby Sands, IRA, The Maze, RUC, UVF, British Army, Gerry Adams, Maggie Thatcher, Sinn Fein, a couple of dead bodies, severed hands, homosexuality, bigotry and intolerance – religious and sexual, possible suicide, missing baby, Catholic police officer, mercury tilt bombs, riots, chaos, destruction, anarchy, tensions, civil war, mistrust, collusion, Special Branch, Ulster fries, drink, 80’s music, opera music, sheet music, protection rackets, postcards, mis-direction, informers, cottaging, pathology, black market goods, power worker strikes, Falls Road, Carrickfergus, Belfast, Larne, trains, forests, RPG’s, handguns, intimidation, knee-capping, snooker halls, red-white-blue kerbstones, murals, territory, protection rackets, MI5……….. a big sprawling mash-up of all these elements and more.

Great main character. Great support cast, with an interesting dynamic between Catholic Duffy and his Protestant colleagues. Great plot. Great sense of time and place in the narrative. I can vividly remember the time of the hunger strikes and the tension in the air at the time. Growing up Irish in Luton during the period this certainly takes me back and whilst I can’t look back at this episode with any great nostalgia, it’s a bit of a trip down memory lane in some respects – albeit one lived through from a distance - thankfully.

Verdict - 5 from 5

There are a couple more books from McKinty featuring Sean Duffy.
I Hear the Sirens in the Street (2)
In the Morning, I’ll Be Gone (3)

With a fourth book planned for 2015 – Sixteen Shells from a Thirty Ought Six

In the UK – McKinty’s books are available through Serpent’s Tail. In the US by Seventh Street Books.
Thanks to Lisa at Seventh Street for my copy. ( )
  col2910 | May 22, 2014 |
This is the first of what was previously known as the Troubles Trilogy (it has since expanded to a fourth title), featuring Detective Sean Duffy of the RUC in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. It's 1981 and the Troubles are in full swing. The case Duffy is currently investigating shows promise if only because it seems to NOT be sectarian in nature. The novelty of this cannot be understated.

I started out quite liking this book but things went downhill toward the end. While I enjoyed the setting throughout, as well as the dynamic between Duffy and the rest of his investigative team, the story started to derail once Duffy decided to investigate on his own and do increasingly idiotic things in order to solve the case, such as following a suspect (or should I say "suspect", since it's really only a hunch on Duffy's part) and having a shouting match with him in public. The final showdown at the end also felt like a particularly cheesy action movie and didn't match the rest of the book in tone.

Reviews of subsequent installments in the trilogy/series seem to suggest that it gets better, so there is a chance I will continue with the series in future. Had I known it would not be a "trilogy", though, I would have started with the third book, which is the one that caught my interest in the first place. This book reminded me why I usually prefer to start series in the middle and work my way back. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Apr 12, 2014 |
We had the very good fortune a couple of years ago to meet and visit with a Goodreads friend in Ireland (http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1516847.Anthony_D_Buckley). My wife's grandmother immigrated from northern Ireland in the late 19th century and since things had calmed down in Ireland we flew over to find her ancestral home. Tony and Linda were extraordinarily helpful in finding the area and Tony provided a walking tour of Belfast and Bellaghy (a town he said he was still a little reluctant to visit given it was in the heart of the "troubles" not so very long ago. (Tony has written on the cultural aspects of the violence: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4231137-negotiating-identity, but he, at one point, waited until some other people left a building to discuss some of the finer points of the "Orange" given that people are apparently still very sensitive about their religious perspectives.) This kind of circumspection is totally foreign to us in the States where we all too frequently voice our opinions rather belligerently. Which provides a little background for this book.

It's an excellent police procedural that takes place in the heat of the "troubles." Sergeant Duffy is an outlier, a Catholic on the predominantly Protestant police force, a member of CID who has just moved into a house in a Protestant neighborhood. He's being groomed for better things: " The police were keen to have me. A university graduate, a psychologist, and that most precious thing of all . . . a Catholic. And now seven years later, after a border posting, the CID course, a child kidnapping, a high-profile heroin bust, and several murder investigations, I was a newly promoted Detective Sergeant at the relatively safe RUC station in Carrickfergus. I knew why they’d sent me here. I was here to stay out of harm’s way ..."

He's called to the scene of what appears to be the murder of an informer, shot in the head with his hand cut off. Until they discover the hand belongs to someone else and there is a piece of musical score with no words shoved up the man's anus. Someone is killing homosexuals and wants to brag about it. No more about the plot.

The constant sense of fear from random violence must have been debilitating, restaurants being torched with IRA napalm (gasoline and sugar), shootings, one's favorite pub being bombed. I can't imagine what it must have been like to always wonder whether the windows in the store one is walking by might at any moment disintegrate in an hail of flying glass. A country where police did not wear their seat belts. " Four police officers had died in car accidents this year, nine police officers had been shot while trapped in their vehicles by their seat belts. The statistical department of the RUC felt that, on balance, it was better not to wear a seat belt." and " dozens of police officers had been killed in booby traps over the years. It was a classic IRA tactic. You call in a tip about a murder, the police go to investigate and they trip a booby trap or the provos remotely detonate a landmine or pipe bomb. Sometimes they place a time-delayed device in a car in the street so they can get the rescue workers too."

Here's a picture of the police station in Bellaghy which gives a sense of the fortresses police were required to hide in.

"We came down into Belfast from the hills through the Protestant district of Ballysillan, which was decorated with murals of masked paramilitaries holding assault rifles and zombie armies holding Union Jacks."

I really like books that evoke both a sense of place and time, as bleak as it might be in Ulster, 1981.. This one does. A real page turner. I eagerly await the second volume in the series.

P.S. If you ever travel to Belfast, a MUST visit is the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra, Co Down in Northern Ireland where Tony worked for many years as a curator.

P.P.S. I just ran across this comment by Garbhan Downey in the Summer 2008 issue of MRJ which has a section on Irish mysteries:
Working in Derry as a reporter during the latter part of the Irish troubles was like living in the pages of a long, twisted crime novel, whose author had forgotten to script an ending.
But while literary fiction tends to possess a certain logic and credibility, what was happening in our ‘real’ world was often bizarre beyond words. I once covered the murder of a child, in which, no lie, the killer managed to steal the body back from the police and hide it in a forest for twelve hours. On another occasion, the night before Halloween, I interviewed the survivor of a gun-massacre, whose Dracula cloak had just been clattered with real blood.

( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
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In a 1981 Northern Ireland rife with sectarian violence, Catholic detective Sean Duffy investigates a serial killer who is targeting gay men--a series of murders that may have political implications as well.

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