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

by Adrian McKinty

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1471281,427 (3.92)17
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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Synopsis/blurb….

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
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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 |
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 |
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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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