Monday, March 23, 2015

Policing With "The Troubles": Adrian McKinty's 4th in Series, GUN STREET GIRL

It's Belfast, Ireland, in 1985 -- and any de facto truce between the religious parties on hand is about to blow up. Meanwhile, Inspector Sean Duffy hasn't had enough sleep to investigate a crime scene, but there's little choice when his new young boss calls him to sort out a violent scene at the local upscale brothel. McArthur's eager for Duffy's help resolving a scene that involves a public relations catastrophe. Within a few more paragraphs, we know a lot more about Duffy himself, as he interviews the "working girl" facing him:
"All right. What happened, love?" I asked her.

"The gentleman and I were about to get down to business. And he said I should have some ... rocket fuel, he called it. I said no. He said come on and try it, it would make us go all night. I said no. He gets all eggy and starts screaming and yelling and I says, right, I'm calling security. He goes bonkers and tries to bloody choke me and I pick up the lampshade and clock him with it."

"Good for you," I replied.

"And I immediately called Carrickfergus RUC. I'll have no nonsense like this in my establishment," the woman in the red wig said. Obviously the lady of the house. ...

"Where is this rocket fuel?" I asked.

Chief Inspector McArthur handed me a large bag of white powder. Enough to power an army. I tasted it. High-quality coke cut with nothing. Probably pharma cocaine manufactured in Germany, worth a bloody fortune. I sealed up the bag and put it in my jacket pocket.

"Have you weighed the cocaine?" I asked the Chief Inspector.


Excellent. "I'll do it at the station and enter it into evidence."
Clever Inspector Duffy, right? But the real problem in the scene is the identity of the brothel customer, which the Chief Inspector already knows -- so after a bit more clarification, Duffy arranges for the players to pressure each other into a solution, just the way he's used to doing in his own neighborhood, where he's the lone Catholic on a block of Protestant roughnecks. And for that matter, at the station, where again he's the only Catholic in a team that's in danger daily.

Duffy's quick wit and smart actions serve him well, but in the next case about to drop on his shoulders, a double murder followed by a pair of apparent suicides, it's the other part of his nature that's going to hang him up: always a significant detail just out of reach. And although he has a steady habit of checking under his car for bombs each time he returns to it, there are other dangers he isn't noticing in time to stop the damage.

Like McKinty's earlier three books in the Detective Sean Duffy series (one of them reviewed here), the plot's tight in GUN STREET GIRL, the action fast, and Duffy -- despite his self-medicating lifestyle -- is an achingly likeable cop who's been pushed out of any chance of promotion. That is, until an agent from MI5 steps back into his life, in the most confusing of ways.

Count on dark situations, crimes stacking up, not all that much direct gore actually but a lot of emotional pain, and a poignant share of Duffy's enduring confusion about the women who entrap him. Add a very human version of the Irish protests and violence of that year, with the flavor of the month being loss ... and grief ... and soon Duffy's lifestyle is making way too much sense.

I was sorry the book ended. I could have gone on for a lot longer, looking over this detective's shoulder and noting the way his heart, like the heart of Ireland, was breaking over and over.

Highly recommended. And very, very satisfying.
UK cover.

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