I have a vague memory of an interview with Dennis Lehane in which he said something along the lines that the big social novel of years past had been, to large extent, subsumed into the crime genre. Certainly Lehane’s novels set in Boston (highly recommended, especially Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River), fit that description. Ditto for fellow The Wire writing room alumni Richard Price’s (set in New York) and George Pelecanos’s (set in DC). James Ellroy in LA (for a nihilistic twist on the social novel). Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh. If The Cold Cold Ground is representative, McKinty does the same for Ireland during the height of the Troubles.
This is the first in the Detective Sean Duffy series which was recommended often on The Coode Street Podcast earlier this year (I usually discover SFF books from them, but I’m glad these got mentioned). Duffy is a Catholic detective in an agency and city dominated by Protestants. The Catholics, most sympathetic the IRA, don’t care for Catholics working for the Police. So he’s dealing with his Protestant coworkers and neighbors who don’t trust him, and his purported cultural allies the Catholics who don’t trust him. When a serial killer who targets gay men (during a time in which homosexuality is illegal in Ireland) shows up, he’s left to solve that case and how it relates to politics among the various religious millitias.
That case is as good a crime thriller as could ask for in its own right. But what takes the book to another level is the setting. McKinty is masterful in making the tension of the Troubles inherent in the background build along with the tension of the murder case. I don’t know much about the Troubles (beyond being a huge fan of Seamus Heaney), but this book invokes the anxiety that must have been endemic to living in that milieu. It is tense. McKinty’s prose is excellent, and his outlook bleak. This is a great crime novel on all levels. A great social novel too.
Christmas Gifts and Everything Else 2020 48/35
(I love that all the titles in this series come from Tom Waits songs.)