It is a common trope in crime fiction that the protagonist detective often finds themselves in some sort of mortal peril. So much so that it starts to feel like a bit of cliché. But for Sean Duffy, a Catholic policeman in a mainly Protestant police force in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, mortal peril is just a fact of life. From the first book in this award winning crime series Sean has been checking under his car for mercury tilt switches every time he leaves his house. So it comes as no surprise to long term fans that book 6, sporting the mouthful name Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly, opens with Sean being marched to his execution through a remnant patch of Irish forest. But, being Sean, as he puffs his way asthmatically through a bog he still manages to keep his mordant sense of humour: “A bullet in the head will fix an incipient asthma attack every time.”
Flashback to Sean visiting his parents with his girlfriend and new baby Emma and being relieved to be called back to Carickfergus to investigate the murder of a small time drug dealer. From the start his investigation is hampered by poor process and with everyone intent on seeing it put to bed. But this is Sean’s first murder case in a year and, as familiar readers will know, even if his superiors do not, Sean does not like a mystery going unsolved no matter where it leads him.
In this case the clues do not lead far or fast but slowly build up broader suspicions, finding connections that go deeper than first appearances. And with the involvement, once again of the secret service and IRA, Sean finds himself in the crosshairs.
Police at the Station… is another fantastic entry in an already highly praised series. What keeps this series fresh, besides Duffy’s droll narration and domestic woes, is the historical context against which the action plays out. In this book, this includes a failed IRA attack on British soldiers in Gibraltar and the weeks of violence and terror that followed. While the case builds slowly, the atmosphere, the characters and the setting are more than enough to keep the pages turning. And McKinty knows how to ramp up the tension once the pieces start to fall into place,
Police at the Station… continues to be the best of crime fiction. McKinty uses the genre to effectively open a window into a time and place, using the mystery and Duffy’s travails to further illuminate the history that he is so effectively conveying. Police at the Station… may be the sixth in the series and can at a pinch be read as a stand-alone. But if you haven’t caught up with Sean Duffy yet, do yourself a favour and go back to the beginning.