The Cold Cold Ground - Adrian McKinty We had the very good fortune a couple of years ago to meet and visit with a Goodreads friend in Ireland (http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1516847.Anthony_D_Buckley). My wife's grandmother immigrated from northern Ireland in the late 19th century and since things had calmed down in Ireland we flew over to find her ancestral home. Tony and Linda were extraordinarily helpful in finding the area and Tony provided a walking tour of Belfast and Bellaghy (a town he said he was still a little reluctant to visit given it was in the heart of the "troubles" not so very long ago. (Tony has written on the cultural aspects of the violence: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4231137-negotiating-identity, but he, at one point, waited until some other people left a building to discuss some of the finer points of the "Orange" given that people are apparently still very sensitive about their religious perspectives.) This kind of circumspection is totally foreign to us in the States where we all too frequently voice our opinions rather belligerently. Which provides a little background for this book.

It's an excellent police procedural that takes place in the heat of the "troubles." Sergeant Duffy is an outlier, a Catholic on the predominantly Protestant police force, a member of CID who has just moved into a house in a Protestant neighborhood. He's being groomed for better things: " The police were keen to have me. A university graduate, a psychologist, and that most precious thing of all . . . a Catholic. And now seven years later, after a border posting, the CID course, a child kidnapping, a high-profile heroin bust, and several murder investigations, I was a newly promoted Detective Sergeant at the relatively safe RUC station in Carrickfergus. I knew why they’d sent me here. I was here to stay out of harm’s way ..."

He's called to the scene of what appears to be the murder of an informer, shot in the head with his hand cut off. Until they discover the hand belongs to someone else and there is a piece of musical score with no words shoved up the man's anus. Someone is killing homosexuals and wants to brag about it. No more about the plot.

The constant sense of fear from random violence must have been debilitating, restaurants being torched with IRA napalm (gasoline and sugar), shootings, one's favorite pub being bombed. I can't imagine what it must have been like to always wonder whether the windows in the store one is walking by might at any moment disintegrate in an hail of flying glass. A country where police did not wear their seat belts. " Four police officers had died in car accidents this year, nine police officers had been shot while trapped in their vehicles by their seat belts. The statistical department of the RUC felt that, on balance, it was better not to wear a seat belt." and " dozens of police officers had been killed in booby traps over the years. It was a classic IRA tactic. You call in a tip about a murder, the police go to investigate and they trip a booby trap or the provos remotely detonate a landmine or pipe bomb. Sometimes they place a time-delayed device in a car in the street so they can get the rescue workers too."

Here's a picture of the police station in Bellaghy which gives a sense of the fortresses police were required to hide in. description

"We came down into Belfast from the hills through the Protestant district of Ballysillan, which was decorated with murals of masked paramilitaries holding assault rifles and zombie armies holding Union Jacks." description

I really like books that evoke both a sense of place and time, as bleak as it might be in Ulster, 1981.. This one does. A real page turner. I eagerly await the second volume in the series.

P.S. If you ever travel to Belfast, a MUST visit is the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra, Co Down in Northern Ireland where Tony worked for many years as a curator.

P.P.S. I just ran across this comment by Garbhan Downey in the Summer 2008 issue of MRJ which has a section on Irish mysteries:
Working in Derry as a reporter during the latter part of the Irish troubles was like living in the pages of a long, twisted crime novel, whose author had forgotten to script an ending.
But while literary fiction tends to possess a certain logic and credibility, what was happening in our ‘real’ world was often bizarre beyond words. I once covered the murder of a child, in which, no lie, the killer managed to steal the body back from the police and hide it in a forest for twelve hours. On another occasion, the night before Halloween, I interviewed the survivor of a gun-massacre, whose Dracula cloak had just been clattered with real blood.