Written by Adrian McKinty — The second book in the Sean Duffy trilogy by Adrian McKinty came out last week, and it picks up the detective’s story in 1982, a year or so after events in The Cold Cold Ground. That book made it into my top five crime books of 2012, so big things were expected from I Hear the Sirens.
It begins with the discovery of a male torso, stuffed into a suitcase, and lobbed into a skip outside a warehouse on the outskirts of Belfast. Detective Sergeant Sean Duffy and his number two, DC McCrabben, start looking into the case. An autopsy, performed by Duffy’s on-again-off-again-definitely-off-again girlfriend Dr Laura Cathcart reveals that not only had the body been frozen, but the cause of death was poison. A very particular kind of poison, made from a very particular species of pea, was used. It’s not the typical MO of a sectarian group, that’s for sure.
After putting in some good detective work back at the Carrickfergus RUC barracks, they figure out that the torso belonged to a retired American taxman named O’Roarke. A slogan tattooed on his back indicates he served in the First Infantry during World War II and they discover he was a decorated war hero. Apparently, O’Roarke was in Northern Ireland researching his roots following his wife’s death. Not really a motive for him to be poisoned and dismembered. Duffy meets with US consul staff in Belfast, and leaves suspecting that he’s not been told everything.
The suitcase the man was found in gives forth another clue – the address of its former owner. They head off to a little rural peninsula on the coast looking for Martin McAlpine. However, this man was murdered several months back – he was a Ulster Defence Regiment reservist, and therefore an IRA target – so instead they meet his wistful widow, Emma. With Laura moving to Edinburgh, Duffy develops an eye for the woman, but he also thinks she’s not telling the truth about how her husband died. Plus, the local police did a poor job investigating it so he starts digging here as well. Because it’s out of their district, his colleagues convince him to file it under SEP – someone else’s problem.
Are the murders somehow connected, or is Duffy’s intuition short circuiting? They keep on investigating even after they’ve been told to put the O’Roarke case into hiatus, and Duffy’s soon over his head in a fascinating mystery that involves UDR snitches, a destitute minor aristocrat, the DeLorean motor factory, the FBI, and more. Like the previous book, I Hear the Sirens concludes with an explosive action scene that you can easily imagine on the big screen. And here’s the rub. Whereas the rest of the book is very credible in terms of the characters, the plot and the way the violence plays out, the action towards the end does seem a little too unlikely.
Nonetheless, McKinty’s writing has so many strengths it’s difficult to fault the book for unbelievable action. The sense of place and the history happening around the story – not just in Belfast, but out in the Falklands, in the pop charts, on movie screens and in the football results – adds a sense of reality to Duffy’s narration. The hero himself has developed too. More confident, less tetchy, he keeps his cynicism in check a bit more, and becomes subdued rather than edgy when the case starts hitting brick walls. Eventually, though, his impatience bursts to the fore and a little jaunt to Boston kicks the story into gear before that spectacular finale back in Northern Ireland.
Whether or not you read the first book, you’ll tear through this absorbing thriller, and the only pity is that the next one’s not out for another year… entitled In the Morning I’ll be Gone.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars