NEW SEAN DUFFY BOOK BY ADRIAN McKINTY: THE DETECTIVE UP LATE. PLUS A LOOK BACK AT HIS FIRST DUFFY NOVEL
Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy novels set in Northern Ireland during the 1980s are a terrific set of books and one of my favourite police series. The last Duffy novel, Police At The Station And They Don’t Look Friendly, appeared on 2017 and seemed to bring the series to some sort of conclusion.
Now after a six year wait, McKinty has a new Duffy book coming out in August 2023, The Detective Up Late, but before looking ahead to that one, I thought I would look back at the first Duffy novel, The Cold Cold Ground, which I had the pleasure of reviewing in May 2012.
When McKinty’s The Cold Cold Ground first appeared in 2012, I was keen to read it, even though I had only been moderately impressed by two of his earlier books that I had read. Nevertheless it soon came apparent that The Cold Cold Ground was a step up in plotting and character, and I thoroughly enjoyed it and keenly looked forward to the next books in the series.
I reviewed The Cold Cold Ground on 5 May 2012, along with three other books including Elmore Leonard’s Raylan and Harlan Coben’s Stay Close, and thought that it was a very good read. In the Canberra Times I said:
“Adrian McKinty’s The Cold, Cold Ground marks the emergence of an author who has the potential to become a major figure in the crime arena.
McKinty’s earlier novels showed much promise, but sometimes lacked discipline in their plotting. This is not the case in The Cold, Cold Ground. Set in Northern Ireland in 1981, it follows the police investigation into a series of murders which might be the work of the Republic’s first serial killer. The lead investigator is the newly promoted Detective Sergeant Duffy, a Catholic policeman who is trusted by non one. As the investigation proceeds against the backdrop of prison hunger strikes and sectarian violence, Duffy finds nothing is ever straightforward in Northern Ireland.
This is a very impressive piece of work which brings to life the daily tensions of living in Northern Ireland during the 1980s. The pacing is good and McKinty skilfully creates a convincing cast of characters who develop and change with the story. The background and historical references are interesting, but, most importantly, McKinty has concocted a good mystery that keeps the reader enthralled. “
McKinty went on to do another four Duffy novels between 2013 and 2017, all of which I got to review, and established himself as leading practitioner of the crime writer’s dark arts.
As noted above, it has been a long wait for this latest Duffy novel. Originally slated for late 2022, The Detective Up Late (Blackstone) is now due for release in the United Kingdom and the United States on 8 August 2023. The good news, however, is that the wait is well worth it.
The Detective Up Late picks up the action soon after the events at the end of Police At The Station And They Don’t Look Friendly, and finds Duffy preparing to move to Scotland and a part time working arrangement at the Carrickfergus RUC where he was stationed. I won’t go into detail about the plot, as I do not want to give away some of the pivotal events at the end of the last book. Suffice to say that the story is set as New Year’s Eve rings in the beginning of the 1990s and the dawn of the new decade. Detective Inspector Sean Duffy is more than happy to slam the door on the grisly 1980s, “there had been twelve hundred Troubles-related murders in Northern Ireland over the decade”, and is clinging to the hope that the 1990s might prove more peaceful for the people of Belfast and himself.
Duffy is also looking forward to embarking on his own personal new chapter, spending more time with his longtime partner, Beth, and daughter, Emma. However, before he finishes up Duffy gets drawn into a missing person case. A fifteen-year-old Traveller girl from a seedy local caravan park has vanished without a trace. Duffy’s sense that this is more than a case of a teenage runaway, is soon confirmed when he uncovers a network of lurid middle-aged men closely connected with the girl. Fearing that every second lost could mean the case remaining unsolved, Duffy urgently tries to uncover what happened to the girl, while having to manage a high profile asset in the IRA. It may be Duffy’s last case, but it is turning out to be more dangerous and twisted than anyone expected.
The Detective Up Late contains all the elements we have come to expect from a McKinty novel. The writing is first rate, and the story commands attention from the opening pages. The plotting is tight and McKinty ably balances the action between the current missing persons case and the over-riding tension of managing an asset double crossing the IRA. There is plenty of reflection on the past, but overall the pacing is good with some very exciting set-pieces. Underlining it all is a good twisty storyline about the missing girl, that bristles with poignancy and offers a few neat surprises.
As usual, the characterisations are very strong and McKinty seems to excel in his depiction of the period, including the sense of hope that greeted the beginning of the 1990s. There is, however, still the awareness that this is Northern Ireland and nothing is ever safe:
“Even with the MI5 men outside Mr ….’s house, you never knew, so I looked under the Beemer for bombs, didn’t find any and got inside.”
McKinty’s wry sense of humour is also well on display and he peppers his story with small details and cultural references that enhance the historical feel of the novel:
“Radio 2 was playing ‘Ebony and Ivory’ out in the Incident Room. I sat up and paid attention. I liked to hate that song. It was the perfect song to hate. It was more perfect to hate than ‘My Gang’ by Gary Glitter. Everything about it: the weak singing, the clunky lyrics, the tinny melody. I enjoyed listening to it and hating it.”
Overall, The Detective Up Late is a fine piece of crime fiction and is one of my favourites of the year so far. Once more McKinty sets the standard for clever, reflective novels of detection.
As I mentioned above, The Detective Up Late is released in the United Kingdom and America on 8 August 2023. There does not seem to be a release date for Australia. Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for an early copy of the book.