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

by Adrian McKinty

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136None89,016 (3.92)11
Member:cerievans1
Title:The Cold Cold Ground (Detective Sean Duffy 1)
Authors:Adrian McKinty
Info:Serpent's Tail (2012), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:Read in 2012, Ireland

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The Cold, Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty (2012)

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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 |
I wish I were
In Carrickfergus
Where the castle
Looks out to sea...


But take my word for it, in 1981, you'd rather be anywhere else. In the town of Carrickfergus, near Belfast, the Troubles are rampant: IRA terrorists and all sorts of other splinter groups bomb and murder at random, Irish prisoners are dying from hunger fasts, and the public outrage is mounting to the boiling point. It's a really, really bad time to be a Catholic police officer working for the British government, but Sgt Sean Duffy has not only embraced his career; he's hoping to make waves on a big murder case. But he quickly discovers that the case is a tangled mass of secrets, lies, and treachery--never a good combination in the volatile atmosphere of Northern Ireland.

OK, the good bits first: McKinty did a brilliant job capturing the atmosphere of the war-torn 1980s Ireland. As an American born after the Troubles ended, I'm embarrassed to admit I knew practically nothing about it; this book explores not only the simple facts, but also the nuances of the conflict. I am shocked at how precarious the world of Northern Ireland was. Although the book is a wonderful exploration for people unfamiliar with the events, someone who actually has knowledge about this time would probably appreciate the book even more; there are a multitude of casual references to events that I know nothing about. It is difficult for me to picture a world in which one must routinely check for land mines in the streets and bombs under cars because of an almost purely nationalistic battle. I'm a product of my time: most of the terrorism I know of is from radical Islamists, and I think it's actually a valuable reminder of (1) how Christianity has been quite recently involved in precisely the same tactics, and (2) just how wrong the American stereotype of a terrorist often is. I don't really understand why ripping up your own country with terror and war is patriotic, but hey, terror in general escapes me. Anyway, I really appreciate the opportunity to explore this time period and this alien world.

However, I didn't like the book. Now, this is a serious your-mileage-may-vary sort of book, and as a caveat, when I start getting annoyed, I basically start picking the book to pieces, castigating everything with typically unjustified criticism. Not to mince words, I found the plot convoluted, unrealistic, and melodramatic, the protagonist arrogant and unlikeable, and the language a glutinous and ridiculous attempt at poetic prose. We have a protagonist who thinks he's smarter than everyone else he meets, is wrong more times than should be humanly possible, and carries on through it all with his armour of arrogance unscratched and undented. We have conspiracies galore, policemen who break into buildings and threaten people without compunction or reprisal, super-spies who can do whatever they damn well please, practised gunmen who miss their targets with semiautomatics from ten feet away, etc, etc. . However, I think it was the language that offended me most. Sure, we have super-concentrated Instant Paraphrases and Checkov Paraphrases--for instance, there's a multipage digression about 90% in which is almost a word-for-word repetition from around the 10% point. He also tends to repeat nouns and verbs sentence from sentence, e.g.,
"I asked him for a bag of crisps. He didn't have a bag of crisps." or
"She began to cry. 'Will you stay?' I stayed. or
"I looked for meaning. There was no meaning.
Once or twice is fine, but this repetition is practically ubiquitous. He's also melodramatic throughout--but that's not what really riled me.

My major issue was this: at times, the language devolved into what I perceived as a pretentious and unsuccessful attempt to be Eliot or Yeats. Now, again, not only is evaluation of language a subjective task, but I admit here and now that I have no poetry in my soul. For all I know, this is beautiful and lyrical, but it came off to me as a rather pretentious attempt at Eliot pastiche. So that you can make up your own mind, I've included a few quotes, randomly selected, that I found irritating; the indentations and spaces are from the original text. If you like them, then I think this book is definitely worth a try. It would be a boring world if we all had the same reading preferences.


Light and fear and existential depression leaking through the curtains.

I've never liked the woods.
My grandmother told me that the forest was an opening to someplace else.
Where things lurked.
Things we could only half see.
Other beings.
Sidhes.
Shades of creatures that once walked the natural world.
Redunant now.
Awaiting tasks.
Awaiting their work in dreams.


I sat in my little existential prison before going out into the bigger existential prison of Northern Ireland.

I stirred from a dream of water.
Light.
Heat.
My body floating on the paraffin fumes above the river and the sea.


Fifty thousand umbilical cords of black smoke uniting grey city and grey sky.

Hey, maybe it's good poetry; how would I know? I can actually see the appeal of these; I'll add ones that actually irritated me when I get the strength and gumption to actually poke back through the book. I remember that I found the mixture of shocking coarseness and overblown language of the sex scenes the worst, e.g.

"She shook her head, smiled and kissed my furrowed brow. Her lips were soft and she smelled [i]good[/i].
I kissed between her breasts and I kissed her belly and I kissed her labia and clitoris. She was a woman. I wanted that. I needed that.
We made love until the rain began and the bishop on the Chess logo faded and finally guttered out."

OK, this is the one that irritated me the most. So he names various female sexual organs, then states that the owner of said organs is female. Pardon the profanity, but no sh*t, Sherlock. Then he notes that he likes that she's female, which I consider was pretty well covered by the kissing aspect.

'We were nearly killed today,' she said.
'Not really.'
'Doesn't it turn you on?'
'You turn me on,' I replied and kissed her again.
She tasted of gin and better times.
I kissed her breasts and her belly and laid her down on the bed.
'Fuck me, you bitch!' she moaned.
We had hard, rampant animal sex and then she climbed on top of me and we fucked again.

"I lay on the mattress and I was so beat she made love to me in the cowgirl and swan positions with my cock deep inside her and she grinding with her hips and knees. We came together and she lay beside me laughing."

I can't find the others in a cursory examination and have no real interest in hunting them out.

Yeahh... not my thing. If it's yours, enjoy. ( )
  page.fault | Sep 21, 2013 |
The Cold, Cold Ground is the first novel in the Troubles Trilogy/Sean Duffy series by author Adrian McKinty. Sean Duffy is a Catholic cop in largely Protestant Northern Ireland during the worst time of the troubles in Northern Ireland. A body of a young man is discovered dumped and with one hand replaced by that from another body. The body also has a piece of music found on it. When the body belonging to the other hand is found Sean Duffy believes he may have Northern Ireland's first non-sectarian serial killer, when it is discovered that both men were homosexual.

This book was an interesting if not overly entertaining book to read. The book is set in Belfast during the worst part of the troubles in 1980's Northern Ireland and McKinty really brings this to life. From an historical perspective this book gives a fascinating insight into the troubles and how difficult it was to be policeman during this time, especially a Catholic one. Read the full review here ( )
  thecrimescene | Aug 27, 2013 |
In the afterword, Adrian McKinty writes:

"I remember 1981 extremely well. I remember the bomb attacks in Belfast and trouble in the Estate. I remember getting a lift to school from a neighbor who was a captain in the British Army; he had to check under his car every morning for mercury tilt switch bombs and sometimes when it was raining or cold he would skip the check and my little brother and I would be in the back seat waiting for the first hill when the bomb might go off... I wanted to set a book in this claustrophobic atmosphere, attempting to recapture the sense that civilization was breaking down to its basest levels. I also wanted to remember the craic, the music, the bombastic politicians, the apocalyptic street preachers, the sinister gunmen and a lost generation of kids for whom all of this was normal."

McKinty does this and so much more with The Cold Cold Ground. The novels starts off with flourish as we tag along with Detective Sean Duffy as he tries to unravel the mystery surrounding the death of a young estranged wife and the murder of two men during the turbulent times of the early eighties that was Ireland.

The sense of Ireland and its people is thick in this novel and as central to the telling of the tale as any of the characters involved. There are Patriots in bed with Terrorists, Terrorists in bed with Martyrs and every Martyr is a Patriot. Only on second glance there is only one person in bed. The Hunger strikes continue and the politicians exploit each and every dying day. Still Ireland moves on, its people killing one another as they define who they are.

In the midst of this a serial killer targeting homosexuals is set loose, at a time when being a homosexual was punishable by a prison term, Detective Sean Duffy sets his sights on solving the crime.

The Cold Cold Ground awaits. Detective Sean Duffy awaits. Let him take you by the hand and lead you through Carrickfergus and the times of the Troubles. ( )
  agarcia85257 | Aug 19, 2013 |
Sean Duffy a policeman in northern Ireland and the problems he has to solve , I have never read any of Adrian's books before , but will definitely be reading more, very different to other police/ detective books I have ever read . loved it. ( )
  Suzannie1 | Jul 14, 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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