Even without the quote on the cover of The Cold Cold Ground claiming it’s a masterpiece, I knew full well that Adrian McKinty’s latest crime novel really does qualify for that epithet. I don’t often say it, but here it’s unavoidable. I haven’t read all Adrian’s books – yet – so don’t know if it’s his best, but suspect it most likely is. Those who have, claim it is.
It’s rare to be reading a book that feels completely right from beginning to end. It wasn’t so much that it was exciting, forcing me to read on to find out who dunnit. It was more that the process of reading every page was so enjoyable I simply had to. If that sounds feeble, then so be it.
Set in Carrickfergus, just outside Belfast in 1981, it features Sean Duffy, a Catholic Detective Sergeant in a very Protestant job in a Protestant area. The first two IRA hunger strikers have just died and things are chaotic to say the least, when Carrickfergus CID find themselves dealing with an ODC.* There appears to be a serial killer of gays on the rampage, but Duffy suspects it might be more complicated than that.
The Cold Cold Ground is a time capsule, taking the reader back to the summer of 1981, with the run-up to the wedding between Prince Charles and Lady Di, and Mrs Thatcher and her government chums dealing with the hunger strike. The Yorkshire Ripper trial is on, and we have a fun cameo appearance by Gerry Adams.
Homosexual acts are illegal and there is no food to be had on a Sunday if you forgot to shop. Shopkeepers have to pay for protection and at the barber’s you can purchase protection of another type. And for Duffy every car ride begins with looking for hidden bombs, something which Adrian seems to have been disturbingly familiar with.
And that’s another thing. Adrian is completely on home ground in this book, having given Duffy a house in his childhood street. I know that writers make things up, but there is something so very right about going back to your roots in this way.
The pleasure of reading meant I almost didn’t care about who did do it. Although in the end it does get interesting, to say the least. You are under the impression you’ve got to the end several times, only for there to be more. This is one novel where I actively look forward to next instalment.
*Ordinary decent criminal.