Northern Ireland gained quite a reputation during the 1970’s & 80’s with what McKinty accurately describes as a low-level civil war that was most often described rather euphemistically as “The Troubles”. Set against a backdrop of Northern Ireland in the early 1980’s, the Troubles trilogy could as this point be termed “historical” fiction as the events take place over thirty years ago but they accurately recreate in so many ways the tension, futility and desperation associated with Northern Ireland of that time and McKinty masterfully weaves his tales around the events taking place from the opening pages of The Cold Cold Ground featuring one of the many riots that accompanied the Republican hunger strikes of 1981 up to the Brighton hotel bombing, an IRA “spectacular” attack on the governing Conservative Party conference in which the UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher narrowly escaped being killed and which features prominently in In The Morning I’ll Be Gone. To gain some perspective on how violent and dangerous it was to be a resident of Northern Ireland at the time and a policeman in particular the following may help:
If the equivalent ratio of victims to population had been produced in Great Britain in the same period some 100 000 people would have died, and if a similar level of political violence had taken place, the number of fatalities in the USA would have been over 500 000, or about ten times the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam war.” (Brendan O’Leary and John McGarry, The Politics of Antagonism: Understanding Northern Ireland, London: The Athlone Press, Second Edition, 1996, pp.12-13)
In 1983, Interpol figures showed that Northern Ireland was the most dangerous place in the world to be a police officer, the risk factor being twice as high as in El Salvador, the second most dangerous. CNN
Sean Duffy is an intriguing character – a rarity in being a Catholic member of the RUC (that’s the Royal Ulster Constabulary or the police force that has since been disbanded in favour of the PSNI as part of the Northern Ireland peace process) in a period where any member of the RUC was a legitimate target in the parlance of the IRA but particularly a Catholic member who were viewly as being traitors to the cause but also as part of his backstory he was rejected in his approach to join the IRA (which adds some additional depth to what he may feel towards those current colleagues that refer both to him and other Catholics as Fenians) following Bloody Sunday as a former schoolmate told him the movement wanted thinkers as well as doers. Having continued with his university education he ultimately joins the opposing side prompted in part by an IRA incendiary attack on a bar frequented by university students that leaves many dead and injured. McKinty obviously knows his subject matter well as he is from Northern Ireland originally but as an author his reputation is enhanced by a number of award nominations.
Kicking off with The Cold Cold Ground which won a Spinetingler award for best novel and which introduces us to Detective Sergeant Sean Duffy where he is called to a site where a man’s corpse has been discovered with one of his hands chopped off which in normal paramilitary style would indicate an informer whose hand has been removed for accepting 30 pieces of silver but this particular case shifts in an unusual direction as the post-mortem suggests it may be the work of a serial killer but once the victim is revealed as a senior member of the IRA other investigative avenues must be pursued which involve senior political figures, a missing woman that has turned up dead but having recently delivered a baby and her ex-husband who has joined the ongoing hunger strike not to mention collusion between those best-of-enemies – the Loyalist and Republican paramilitaries. Perhaps it is best described by McKinty himself as “a police procedural but a procedural set in extremely unusual circumstances in a controversial police force cracking under extraordinary external and internal pressures”.
The second book in the series is I Hear The Sirens In The Street. With a guest appearance for John DeLorean who was supposed to be the saviour of the province if only the car that bore his name had been more successful commercially rather than just in the movies (that and the small matter of a FBI drugs bust) but the discovery of a body in a suitcase in the grounds of his factory at a time when everyone is still enthralled with him leads Duffy to another open murder case which is presumed to have been paramilitary in nature but the pieces of the puzzle don’t fit together easily leaving Duffy to antagonise not only his colleagues and the Northern Ireland citizenry but the FBI as well. The book incidentally also features my new favourite word – kakistocracy which means government under the control of a nation’s least-qualified citizens.
The soon to be published In The Morning I’ll Be Gone manages to spring a couple of surprises in that Duffy finds himself off the force early in the novel but is reinstated courtesy of MI5 and tasked with tracking down his former schoolmate Dermot McCann – the man who spurned Duffy’s advances to join the IRA. In the course of his investigation he meets both Michael Forsythe (the hitman who features in McKinty’s other trilogy comprising Dead I May Well Be, The Dead Yard and The Bloomsday Dead) as well as Annie McCann the divorced wife of Dermot and another former schoolfriend. Her mother confidentially promises Duffy inside information on Dermot McCann’s whereabouts if he investigates the death of her other daughter and it is this case which transitions In The Morning I’ll Be Gone most unexpectedly into a locked-room mystery.
I loved this series and have no hesitation in recommending them. I rated them all 10 out of 10. I may even be inspired to search through the dreaded TBR pile for some more of McKinty’s work which I know are in there somewhere. Further details are available from his personal site as well as his respective UK and US publishers.
My favourite books of 2013 in no particular order were:
The Holy Thief / The Bloody Meadow / The Twelfth Department (Alexei Korolev series) by William Ryan
Police by Jo Nesbo
Criminal Enterprise by Owen Laukkanen
A Killer in the Wind by Andrew Klavan
It wasn’t easy for the young lad, thought Korolev. Being a good Communist these days was like following an arbitrary God who required you to believe that white was white one day and black the next.
He found himself hoping that a day would come when the leadership would point out to these arrogant protectors of the State that the People they were meant to be protecting were the same people they spent their time harassing and intimidating. (P. 71)
He knew that if he listened hard enough he’d hear voices from the cabinet, begging him to rescue the poor unfortunates imrisoned there and bury them, deep beneath the ground, the way a human being should be buried, in the shadow of an Orthodox cross to mark their passing. (P.112)
His visit to the institute had him asking questions he generally tried to avoid. What kind of revolution had it been now that the State had ended up making a science out of breaking its citizens down and building them up again? And for what? So that they could all think the same, feel the same, chant the same name at the same time – Stalin’s name, no doubt. How had it happened? He’d thought the Revolution had been intended to give the people freedom from oppression, not build establishments like the institute. Sometimes it was hard to believe that there was any good left in Soviet power, and that was the truth of it.
Straight from the opening prologue you can appreciate that the quality of the writing herein is something from another realm. The author had offered review copies maybe a year or two back which I ultimately declined because if you subsist like me on a diet primarily of American detectives by the names of Elvis and Harry (ok granted there is the occasional sojourn to Norway but he’s still named Harry!) then you may have concerns about historical novels set in the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union. Well maybe I’ve grown as a reader in the last couple of years but I was probably doing Mr. Ryan a disservice because he presents us with a surprisingly engaging central character in Capt. Alexei Korolev with a turn of wit that was both pleasing and unexpected. Korolev is a detective with the Moscow Militia which is the civilian police investigation unit as opposed to a branch of the state security apparatus known as NKVD (or colloquially as Chekists) and years later to become better known as the KGB.
The author effortlessly depicts both the environment and the era with references to requisitioned apartments and the all-pervasive sense of caution and inhibition engendered by the constant spectre of being reported on leading to possible investigation and arrest in the dark of night for subsequent transfer to Siberia. I was a bit slower than normal getting through this one but this was primarily due to me pausing to savour what I had just read.
Throughout the series, one is aware of the overbearing presence of the NKVD who emphasise the importance of trivial political matters over a murder investigation which merely serves to enhance our admiration for Korolev as he balances the requirements of his investigations without either meekly succumbing to subservience or abandoning particular avenues of investigation entirely.
As a historical series it certainly introduced me to a number of movements and incidents (e.g. The Stakhanovite Movement and the Stalinist Five Year Plans) that enhanced my understanding of the era so it was educational as well. Although Korolev is a Stalin supporter as evidenced by his enthusiastic response to an appearance by the Soviet Party Chairman, some remnants of his Orthodox beliefs remain with his morning prayer ritual as well as secreting his Bible away allied to his avoidance of doors in the former church that had been reserved to clergy. These tendencies must remain a closely guarded secret s however in a climate of distrust and fear fostered by the denunciation of colleagues by those either seeking revenge or advancement along with his reservations about the nature of the evolving Soviet society and those charged with “protecting” it from both internal and external saboteurs. In book two of the series, Korolev finds himself sought out by the upper echelons of the NKVD for an investigation in the Ukraine which in a politically charged environment as it existed at the time being remembered isn’t always the most comfortable of existences while #3 finds Korolev in unfortunate circumstances – caught between two rival NKVD factions which would lead most men to simply acquiesce and follow the path of least resistance to reach an acceptable conclusion regardless of the evidence even if this means compromising their own principles particularly when their own family are placed in jeopardy. Ironically across the series members of the Moscow Thieves become more trusted than some of those that he works for and with, even though nominally at least they are foes. My ratings for the three books were 10, 8 and 9 respectively in series order so it’s fair to say that I loved them and I’ve got a new series to follow in the future and definitely a series for you if you favour historical settings (or even if you don’t).
Synopses of the various books from the author’s website are reproduced below.
No payment or incentive was received or promised in relation to this review. Books were sourced from local libraries.
The Holy Thief: Synopsis
Moscow, 1936 and Stalin’s Great Terror is beginning. In a deconsecrated Church, a young woman is found dead, her mutilated body displayed on the altar for all to see.
Captain Alexei Korolev of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Moscow Militia, is asked to investigate. But when he discovers that the victim is an American citizen, the NKVD – the most feared organisation in Russia – becomes involved.
As more bodies are discovered and the pressure from above builds, Korolev begins to question who he can trust; and who, in this Russia where fear, uncertainty and hunger prevails, are the real criminals. Soon, Korolev will find not only his moral and political ideals threatened, but also his life . . .
The Bloody Meadow: Synopsis
Following his investigations in The Holy Thief, which implicated those at the very top of authority in Soviet Russia, Captain Alexei Korolev finds himself decorated and hailed as an example to all Soviet workers. But Korolev is uneasy– his new-found knowledge is dangerous, and if some of his actions during the case come to light, he will face deportation to the frozen camps of the far north.
But when the knock on the door comes, in the dead of night, it is not Siberia Korolev is destined for. Instead, Colonel Rodinov of the NKVD asks the detective to look into the suspected suicide of a young woman: Maria Lenskaya, a model citizen. Korolev is unnerved to learn that Lenskaya was in a relationship with Ezhov, the feared Commissar for State Security and that Ezhov himself wants to matter looked into.
And when the detective arrives on the set for Bloody Meadow, in the bleak, famine-scarred Ukraine, he soon discovers that there is more to Lenskaya’s death than meets the eye . . .
The Twelfth Department: Synopsis
Moscow, 1937. Captain Korolev, a police investigator, is enjoying a long-overdue visit from his young son Yuri when an eminent scientist is shot dead within sight of the Kremlin and Korolev is ordered to find the killer.
It soon emerges that the victim, a man who it appears would stop at nothing to fulfil his ambitions, was engaged in research of great interest to those at the very top ranks of Soviet power. When another scientist is brutally murdered, and evidence of the professors’ dark experiments is hastily removed, Korolev begins to realise that, along with having a difficult case to solve, he’s caught in a dangerous battle between two warring factions of the NKVD. And then his son Yuri goes missing . . .
These are titles that I’m planning on reading and not necessarily new titles. Most of them fall into one of two groups though – either there is a new release from that particular author and I want to read the earlier titles in the series or they may be 2013 titles from earlier this year that I hope to catch up on. One thing’s for sure though whenever I do a list like this I invariably end up with a few different titles or more titles listed than I can possible read in the time available.
With all that preamble out of the way let’s kick off shall we? I’m currently reading “The Professionals” (UK) by Owen Laukkanen and provided I like it well enough I will follow it with book two in that series entitled “Criminal Enterprise” (UK) if for no other reason than I bought them on Kindle recently for a combined $6 and want to see what the “buzz” is about before book 3 “Kill Fee” (UK) is launched.
Similarly, Wallace Stroby whose Harry Rane series I really liked is back with book 3 in his Crissa Stone series “Shoot the woman first” (UK) so I’m going to try to fit in book 1 – “Cold shot to the heart” (UK). Then I’ve got Michael Connelly’s latest Mickey Haller novel “The gods of guilt” (UK) on pre-order. After that it’ll be a little bit less predictable but the following could make the cut before the end of the year:
1. John Sandford Storm Front (UK) – I haven’t read any of his novels in 20 years and never one of his Virgil Flowers ones so hope to try this one out.
2. Walter Mosley Little Green (UK) – about time I tried one of his Easy Rawlins books
3. Craig Johnson A Serpent’s Tooth (UK) – I’ve been sitting on this for a couple of months and need to get my finger out!
4. James Lee Burke Light of the World (UK) – the latest Dave Robicheaux but again I haven’t kept up with this series in years
5. Charlie Huston Skinner (UK)
Ok I make that nine planned for the rest of 2013, that’s probably about the right number but we’ll have to see whether the ones above are the same ones that I actually end up reading.
Mike Resnick is an author that you would be very familiar with if you enjoy science fiction and you certainly would be aware of his prolific and highly awarded catalogue. Me? Until these two novels arrived in the mail I’d never heard of him.
Back in the 90’s he published what was a one-off mystery novel “Dog in the Manger” which is now back in print courtesy of Seventh Street Books which has also enticed him into a second volume “The Trojan Colt” with the promise of more to come in particular #3 in the series “Cat on a Cold Tin Roof”.
There is something appealing about his P.I. creation, Eli Paxton, though even after reading the first book “Dog in a Manger” I couldn’t quite say what it was but it was sufficient for me to delve straight into #2 “The Trojan Colt” even though I only rated the first one about a 7 overall but it obviously possessed enough of those mysterious intangibles to warrant my continued attention.
Eli’s backstory is familiar enough – an ex-cop turned PI as a result of pursuing the wrong case the right way and consequently displeasing the powers that be. Likewise there are more successful pi’s than him out there too so he can’t afford to be too choosy over those clients that do come to him but he can offer them a dogged personality that will run with a case until there is nowhere left to go. There are certain similarities in both books as he is running out of avenues to pursue and about to quit the case until someone decides to take a shot at him which obviously convinces him that he is doing “something” right even if he is blissfully unaware of what he has done to attract such unwanted attention. So overall an engaging character that’s written in an easy-to-read style that isn’t too challenging but enjoyable nonetheless. I had a slight preference for The Trojan Colt over Dog in the Manger but there isn’t much between them, maybe 8 to 7.
Dog in the Manger: Amazon, Kindle
Hired to investigate the disappearance of a Westminster winner Eli Paxton stumbles into a web of intrigue. A dog is missing. Not just any dog. The number one Weimaraner in the country and current Westminster winner. Down-on-his-luck private eye Eli Paxton is hired to find him. Not exactly an elite assignment, but better than nothing. Maybe it will help him pay his rent. It turns out to be anything but a routine case. People start dying in mysterious ways, a cargo plane goes missing, and someone is taking shots at him. It makes no sense. Even a top show dog isn’t worth that much. Now the hunt is on. Paxton needs to find this dog to save his own skin. The trail leads to Arizona, then Mexico, and finally back to his hometown of Cincinnati—where he finds the startling solution.
Hired to guard a high-priced yearling of “Trojan,” a recently retired classic winner in Lexington, Kentucky, Eli Paxton is only days into the job when the yearling’s young groom goes missing. Asked by the boy’s parents to investigate his disappearance, Paxton focuses on the Lexington breeding farm. It turns out that another staff member has disappeared in the past couple of months. As Paxton worries that the missing boys may never be found, he becomes a target himself when a secret threatens to derail the world of professional horse racing.
I’ve had a good track record with books from Tyrus with previous titles reviewed including Craig McDonald’s El Gavilan and Reed Farrel Coleman’s Hurt Machine which were two of my favourite books of 2011. Jump forward a couple of years and we have the latest in the Moe Prager series from Reed Farrel Coleman plus The Hard Bounce from Todd Robinson.
I loved The Hard Bounce I have to say and I think Boo Malone is one of new favourite characters so this is one book you should have on your shelves (or your ereader if you prefer). Vivid descriptions accompanied by occasional effective use of the author directly addressing the reader via Boo make for one very entertaining read and on top of that Boo & Junior make for a great double act. I hope this one evolves into a series – the world deserves it!
I shuddered with Nabokovian creeps, and shifted my attention back to the crowd. (And yes, f*ck you, I know who Nabokov is. I’m a bouncer, not a retard.)
He felt around the inside his mouth again. “I think you cracked my tooth, @sshole.” Junior kicked him right in the face with a size twelve Doc Marten. Seven’s head bounced off the wall like a tennis ball. “There. Now you can be sure.”
The latest in the Moe Prager series is actually a prequel that explains how he ended up joining the police. Barring a few pages at the beginning and the end that frame the story and put it into context really with the rest of the series, the remainder is effectively a flashback as Moe explains what happened to his girlfriend back in 1967 together with various double-crosses and setups and how that ultimately led to him enrolling in the police academy. For long time followers of the series, all the usual identifiable traits are all present and correct. Plus points include a sense of time and place that is portrayed really well – just about the best this side of a George Pelecanos novel but without as much emphasis on the music.
So two excellent books. If I had to choose just one, it would be The Hard Bounce but very different styles and neither would go amiss. My rating for both is 10.
Boo Malone lost everything when he was sent to St. Gabriel’s Home for Boys. There, he picked up a few key survival skills; a wee bit of an anger management problem; and his best friend for life, Junior. Now adults, Boo and Junior have a combined weight of 470 pounds (mostly Boo’s), about ten grand in tattoos (mostly Junior’s), and a talent for wisecracking banter. Together, they provide security for The Cellar, a Boston nightclub where the bartender Audrey doles out hugs and scoldings for her favorite misfits, and the night porter, Luke, expects them to watch their language. At last Boo has found a family.
But when Boo and Junior are hired to find Cassandra, a well-to-do runaway slumming among the authority-shy street kids, Boo sees in the girl his own long-lost younger sister. And as the case deepens with evidence that Cassie is being sexually exploited, Boo’s blind desire for justice begins to push his surrogate family’s loyalty to the breaking point. Cassie’s life depends on Boo’s determination to see the case through, but that same determination just might finally drive him and Junior apart. What’s looking like an easy payday is turning into a hard bounce–for everyone.
Moe Prager #8
It’s 1967 and Moe Prager is wandering aimlessly through his college career and his life. All that changes when his girlfriend Mindy is viciously beaten into a coma and left to die on the snow-covered streets of Brooklyn. Suddenly, Moe has purpose. He is determined to find out who’s done this to Mindy and why. But Mindy is not the only person in Moe’s life who’s in danger. Someone is also trying to kill his best and oldest friend, Bobby Friedman.
Things get really strange when Moe enlists the aid of Lids, a half-cracked genius drug pusher from the old neighborhood. Lids hooks Moe up with his first solid information. Problem is, the info seems to take Moe in five directions at once and leads to more questions than answers. How is a bitter old camp survivor connected to the dead man in the apartment above his fixit shop, or to the OD-ed junkie found on the boardwalk in Coney Island? What could an underground radical group have to do with the local Mafioso capo? And where do Mindy and Bobby fit into any of this?
Moe will risk everything to find the answers. He will travel from the pot-holed pavement of Brighton Beach to the Pocono Mountains to the runways at Kennedy Airport. But no matter how far he goes or how fast he gets there, all roads lead to Onion Street.
I wrote about Plugged the first book from Eoin Colfer, the creator of the Artemis Fowl series, to feature Daniel McEvoy last year and now he’s back in another fun-filled sequel. While many crime books feature a wise-cracking detective only a few of them actually manage more than a couple of genuine jokes in the whole book while this has one every other page (or sometimes multiple ones on the one page). This is basically a crime-comedy and a very good one too.
I’m a businessman. And what we got here is a business opportunity. Except he says opera-toonity. For some reason he can’t pronounce the word right and I wouldn’t mind but he works it into every second sentence. Irish Mike Madden says opera-toonity more than the Pope says Jesus. And the Pope says Jesus a lot, especially when people sneak up on him.
For those new to the series, it features Daniel McEvoy as the co-owner of the soon-to-be newly renovated hippest bar in town provided the uneasy truce with the local mob boss Irish Mike Madden doesn’t unravel relying as they were on the Cold War ethos of mutually assured destruction given that McEvoy’s death would beget the death of Madden’s mother by an associate of McEvoy’s in the old country by way of retaliation. Unfortunately, said mother has passed away in the most unfortunate and comical of ways leaving McEvoy once more exposed to Madden’s whims which this time require Daniel to act as a courier to get out from under. With assistance from his Botox-wielding “friend” Zebulon Kronski having to be taken with a pinch of salt Dan has to extricate himself from some of the most bizarre circumstances imaginable featuring thongs, dildoes, corrupt cops &YouTube not to mention a vicious intra-gang war.
My rating 10 out of 10 for the chuckle factor. Have fun people.
Dan McEvoy doesn’t set out to get into violent confrontations with New Jersey’s gangster overlords but he’s long since found that once you’re on their radar, there’s only one way to slip off it. So he’s learned his own way to fight back, aiming to outwit rather than kill unless he really has no choice. But when Dan’s glam step-gran Edit shows up on the hunt for his dishevelled aunt Evelyn, it quickly becomes clear that family can provide the deadliest threat of all. In a city of gun-happy criminals, bent cops and a tough-talking woman detective who inspires terror and lust in equal measure, Dan may just have reached the point where sharp wit won’t cut the mustard. But can he play the heavies at their own game?