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Serpent's Tail, 21 January 2016. ISBN: 978 1 78125 455 4
Belfast in the 1980s, the Troubles at their height. Winter, with the
weather alternating between snow and rain, mostly the latter to the extent that
Ireland seems likely to be washed away. Detective Inspector Sean Duffy of the
Royal Ulster Constabulary, the protagonist of this and four earlier novels by
this author, along with Detective Sergeant Alexander Lawson, is called to the
ancient castle of Carrickfergus where the body of a young woman, an apparent
suicide, has been found. He recognises her: Lily Bigelow, a young English
journalist, whom he had encountered the previous day while looking into the
theft of a wallet from a hotel room – not the sort of crime that would normally
call for the involvement of a senior detective except that the victim was one
of a party of Finns visiting Carrickfergus with a view to setting up a mobile
phone factory, just the sort of investment that Northern Ireland needed in those
troubled times, so much so that Chief Superintendent Ed McBain is also present.
The wallet is soon found; end of story? Not altogether, although at first it
seems that Lily's death must have been suicide and not connected at all with
the wallet theft. After all, her injuries are consonant with a fall from a
great height and although the caretaker was the only person present overnight
in the castle there is no evidence to suggest that he or anyone else was
involved. And yet, and yet . . . Duffy is not altogether convinced so is not
surprised when the post-mortem indicates that she did not die at the time or in
the way first presumed. Now the caretaker is the most likely suspect; even so
there is no conclusive evidence.
Then McBain is killed by a
car bomb, presumably the work of the IRA. Although Duffy is devastated by the
news, as are all his colleagues, such events were all too commonplace at the
time, and Duffy feels he must continue to try and find out what Lily was doing
in Northern Ireland. As a journalist Lily would have had a notebook, but
there's no trace of it. Duffy travels to London to make enquiries of her
colleagues, one of whom comes up with a juicy titbit: Lily had paid a visit to
Jimmy Savile, now known to be a serial child abuser, then famous as a pop
celebrity and tireless charity fundraiser. Duffy also visits Savile but learns
nothing concrete nor do his subsequent enquiries at a Northern Ireland boys'
home or a visit to Finland to re-interview the Finns bear fruit. He can see the
connections but there is nothing that amounts to sufficient evidence, not until
the end when his own life is in danger.
I was very impressed with
this novel. The breakneck prose style is well-adapted to the subject matter and
the characterisation is convincing as is the depiction of the dangerous life of
members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. At the same time the break-up of
Duffy's relationship with his much younger girl friend and his consequent
distress is emotionally powerful. Recommended.
Reviewer: Radmila May
Adrian McKinty was born and grew up in Carrickfergus, Northern
Ireland. He studied law at Warwick University and politics and philosophy at
Oxford. In the early 90's he emigrated to New York City where he worked at
various odd jobs with varying degrees of legality until 2001 when he moved to Denver, Colorado to become a high
school English teacher. In 2008 he emigrated again, this time to Melbourne,
Australia with his wife and kids.
Radmila Maywas born in the US but has lived in the UK ever since
apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not
go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law
publishers and has been working for them off and on ever since. For the last
few years she was one of three editors working on a new edition of a
practitioners' text book on Criminal Evidence by her late husband; the book has
now been published thus giving her time to concentrate on her own writing. She
also has an interest in archaeology in which subject she has a Diploma.