DI Sean Duffy (In the Morning I’ll Be Gone, 2014, etc.), stuck in the Royal Ulster Constabulary in 1985, struggles to close a murder case that keeps opening wider and wider.
“How can you investigate a murder in a time of incipient civil war?” wonders hard-used Duffy. Anywhere else, the shootings of millionaire bookmaker Ray Kelly and his wife would be front-page news for a week; in Ulster during the latest round of the Troubles, they barely make a ripple. The apparent suicide of their missing son, Michael, simply heightens the pressure to close the case by blaming him for their deaths. But Duffy, who was brought aboard the case over his own protests only to keep Larne RUC from unfairly grabbing it from DS McCrabban, isn’t satisfied. Once he learns that just before Michael suddenly dropped out of Oxford, he was a guest at a wild party at which drugs claimed the life of agriculture minister’s daughter Anastasia Coleman, there’s no stopping Duffy. Nothing deters him—not beatings, gunfire, threats from visiting American agents whose identities are clearly bogus, or the caresses and promises of Belfast Telegraph reporter Sara Prentice, who’s eager to move off the women’s page, or Kate Albright, who’s equally eager to recruit Duffy for MI5. The more toes Duffy steps on, the higher the stakes rise, and soon he’s looking into the theft of half a dozen missiles from a not-so-secure site in Marseilles and putting scowls on a lot of well-connected faces. The results involve less detection than head-butting, with stonewalling merely the most obvious clue that Duffy’s getting somewhere.
Alert readers won’t need McKinty’s afterword to see the many motifs ripped from last generation’s headlines. Nor will they be surprised to see Duffy’s grim, lively fourth case remain defiantly inconclusive to the last drop of gallows humor.