Sean Duffy has spent the last 15 years as the token “fenian peeler” at the Carrickfergus RUC station. He may be hated by Catholics & Prods alike but the fact he’s still breathing has earned him a grudging respect.
It’s 1988 & the Troubles have simmered down somewhat. So Sean & colleagues Lawson and Crabbie have more time to investigate “normal” crimes. Well…maybe that’s a bit optimistic. When they’re called to a rough neighbourhood, the last thing they expect to find is a man killed with a crossbow. But before he can deal with the victim Sean has to subdue a crazy wife, an angry mob & a goat (don’t ask).
The man is eventually identified as a drug dealer who recently moved back to N. Ireland. Should be a no-brainer. He was probably killed by a faction of the IRA or a business rival. Either way, the case is likely destined for the unsolved bin. But the choice of weapon bothers Sean & when the man’s wife disappears, his team begins some serious digging.
The investigation is a welcome distraction for Sean. Things at the station are a little tense these days. An old nemesis is about to become boss & there’s a rumour they may have to actually pass a fitness test. On the home front, Beth wants to move house & her father would prefer that Sean stay behind. Jeeze….don’t they know he’s trying to quit smoking?
Batten the hatches, people. This one takes off in directions you’ll never see coming. A simple murder soon escalates into an intricate web of death threats, old secrets & some seriously pissed off IRA enforcers. And that’s before an international incident reignites the Troubles.
It has to be a challenge for any author writing a series to produce something fresh while staying true to their characters. McKinty accomplishes this by aging his cast in real time. As the books progress, we watch as they bump into all the milestones that make up a life. The result is we become deeply invested in characters who feel authentic. Sean is 38 now & worn down by the daily battle. He’s had a front row seat for more than a decade as his country tears itself apart. His cocky, self deprecating attitude is still intact but you sense he’s becoming resigned to a bleak future. One little ray of hope is baby Emma whose smile lights up his world but the fact her daddy is a marked man just adds to his stress.
What hasn’t changed is sharp, witty dialogue that showcases the frequently hilarious vernacular of Northern Ireland. One moment you’re breathless from the hair raising action while the next has you giggling as Sean debates politics with his cat.
Descriptions of Carrickfergus & its residents put you smack dab in the middle of this desperate time. It’s clear the author loves his home & knows its history. Actual people & events provide a tense background which adds to the dark atmosphere of the story.
So consider yourself warned. Don’t pick this up until you have a few spare hours because the prologue is killer & you won’t want to stop. I’ve enjoyed every book in the series but this is one of the best.