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by Adrian McKinty
Seventh Street Books, March 2017
320 pages
ISBN: 1633882594

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

POLICE AT THE STATION is the sixth entry in The Troubles trilogy (a new and better math) and the sixth to draw its title from a Tom Waits lyric. Chronologically, it follows close on RAIN DOGS in a Northern Ireland still gripped by the violence of the Troubles and opens ominously with a prologue, not a device that McKinty habitually employs. Detective Sean Duffy is trapped in what he recognizes is a cliché, being prodded forward with guns to his back through a patch of woods. "This exact scene has played out at least a thousand times since 1968 all over rural Ulster," he thinks. "I myself have been the responding officer on half a dozen bodies found face down in a sheugh, buried in a shallow grave, or dumped in a slurry pit on the high bog." No point, he thinks, of calling on God or St Michael the Archangel. They will not save him. He will have to save himself.

Whether he does or whether POLICE AT THE STATION is the last in the series chronicling the life of this Catholic policeman in a Protestant police force will not be revealed till the end of the story, however. Instead, the prologue ends with Duffy face down in the mud, listening to the complaints of his captors at being out so late in so dark and scary a wood. The whole chapter is quintessential McKinty: elegant and balanced prose, a fine sense of both the terror and the ridiculousness of this set piece in the woods, and a refusal to concede defeat until all hope is gone.

We then return to the beginning of the chain of events that has led Duffy to this pass. As the story proper opens, he is, for him, a happy man. His partner, Beth, seems at least for now content in their relationship, even if she still refuses to marry him. They have a baby, a little girl named Emma, and Sean is madly in love with her. Things down at the station could be worse, though of course they may very well become so at any moment. So when he is called to the scene where a drug dealer lies murdered, shot with of all things a crossbow, Duffy has no idea that his insistence on discovering why this man was murdered and who killed him would ultimately lead to his walk in the woods. But Duffy is, as we know, a persistent policeman and he will not settle for an easy clearance. Despite the presence of the stiffening corpse, the scene itself is broadly comic with a goat presiding over events and contaminating the evidence.

As is true for other books in the series, the central investigation here is into a crime that appears to have no political notable implications. Perhaps the dealer was killed by a volunteer group connected to the IRA, but if so, he will not be the first to meet that fate, especially if he was an independent operator poaching on the turf of a paramilitary group. Nevertheless, the larger political situation is always present; forgetting it is dangerous and impossible. Every time Duffy gets into his car, and he drives his BMW535i a lot, he never fails to check underneath for bombs even if he's only been parked for a few minutes. And of course, the larger political conflicts affect internal police affairs, leaving Sean with a stunted and stalled career.

The series is often referred to as "historical fiction" and it is true that this one is set about a quarter of a century ago. But the sentiments, the passions, and the terrible crimes these gave rise to are alive in memory and even today threaten the peace that was finally brokered ten years after the events in this novel. So if we expect from historical fiction a safe trip into a period that is well and truly past, McKinty's Troubles series will disappoint. But it will disappoint in no other way. McKinty is a brilliantly gifted novelist, able to write eloquently, poignantly, and with mordant humour about a time that we might wish to punctuate with a full stop but that it might be premature to try.

§ Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, March 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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