The final book of The Troubles Trilogy brings back Sean Duffy, a Catholic cop in the Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). As the book opens, in Belfast in the early ‘80’s, there is “a mass breakout of IRA prisoners” from the notorious Maze Prison (a maximum security prison “considered to be one of the most escape-proof penitentiaries in Europe”), among the prisoners his boyfriend friend, Dermot McCann, an IRA master bomber. Despite his somewhat sketchy history with the police force, which he was forced to leave for various “crimes and misdemeanors,” he is offered his old job back with a promotion to detective inspector if he assists MI5 in the recapture of McCann, for which purpose he is reinstated and assigned to Special Branch. The search for his old friend leads to a locked room mystery involving the death four years earlier of a young woman named Lizzie Fitzpatrick, the solution to which is the price he must pay for a lead on McCann’s whereabouts.
In the aftermath of Bloody Sunday, January 30, 1972, when a dozen civilians had been shot dead while marching for equal rights, it is a matter of necessary routine for residents to check under their cars for bombs before entering. The book contains plenty of fascinating Irish history (both that of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic) coupled with some Gaelic phrases, the whole completely charming. Equally so the protagonist himself and his eclectic musical taste (in what he considers to be “the worst year in popular music for about two decades”), e.g., Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” Elvis, Rimsky-Korsakov, Brahms, Led Zeppelin, and Leonard Cohen.
The Ireland of this book is one where a recommended form of baby-rearing involves “the slightest wee dash of Irish whiskey in the bottle . . . for a good night’s sleep,” where there’s a bounty on the lives of Irish cops, where three of the most popular ways out of the RUC is murder, suicide or cirrhosis, and where “police stations on the South Armagh border were future finishing schools for alcoholics and suicides with the added frisson of being shot or blown up on foot patrol.” I missed the first two books in the trilogy, unfortunately, which I will try to correct in short order. OTOH, next up for this reviewer is Mr. McKinty’s “The Sun is God” – can’t wait!