Adrian McKinty’s The Cold Cold Ground released way back in 2012, is a dark, Belfast noir novel set in the 1980’s that not only captures the essence of a classic crime saga but also a story of national struggle – highlighting the violence and heartbreak of the Irish Troubles.
McKinty’s writing is one of roguish masculinity, which has much to do with the personality of the main protagonist Sean Duffy. Duffy is tough but charming, rough but empathetic, down-to-earth but well-educated. We are juxtaposed between Duffy’s black, sordid humour and his ability to spring flowery prose at the drop of a hat. McKinty has created a reasonably complex human character, though sometimes his corny one-liners seem to come straight out of an episode of Midsomer Murders…
When it comes to writing, McKinty has the craft. He knows how to write an action-led mystery with a dark heart.
And what of the plot?
At first, there are many layers to the action. It begins with two murders, and a suicide seeming so “unrelated” that the reader could only assume that they were, in fact, intrinsically linked. Maybe this was McKinty’s intention.
Then on top of that, we have the almost apocalyptic backdrop of the Irish Troubles, with the IRA, RUC, DUP and so forth. For those who aren’t familiar with the context, it might seem too much to keep up with. But McKinty handles the subject matter extremely well, gently explaining to the reader, without holding their hand and slowing the action.
The setting is the layer that really sells the story in the beginning, making it not just another detective ‘whodunnit?’. And as we later find out, the setting becomes intrinsic to the action as we discover Scavanni’s motives behind the murders.
I find the ending a tad rushed. The pace of the book overall follows that of a classic crime drama, and then in the last few chapters of the books, flips the script and becomes a fast-paced spy saga (almost)… I’m undecided on whether I love this, or hate it.
One thing is for sure. The way Sean Duffy leaves us, makes me want to definitely pick up the next thriller in the series.
Overall, McKinty has delivered an original, thrilling read.