Oxford, Denver, New York, Melbourne and even Israel – Adrian McKinty has lived all over the place. However, it’s the streets of Belfast, where he grew up, that form the rainy and menacing setting in his latest series of crime novels. The books centre around Sean Duffy, one of the few Catholic detectives in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. His job is to investigate murders in the middle of the sectarian war that took place in 1980s Belfast, negotiating his way between power brokers, petty thugs and bigots alike.
Both The Cold Cold Ground and I Hear the Sirens in the Street have received five-star ratings here on Crime Fiction Lover. The third in the series, In the Morning I’ll be Gone, is about to hit the shelves and in it Duffy will be searching for an escaped IRA bomb-maker who also happens to be someone he knew as a boy. So it was high time we invited Adrian McKinty over to talk about his writing…
What do you think Crime Fiction Lovers will love about In the Morning I’ll Be Gone?
I hope they like the idea of a locked room mystery inside in a noir. I don’t think that’s been done before, or if it has, I don’t think there are too many of them…
Sean Duffy is instantly fascinating – he’s a Catholic policeman in the mainly Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary. Where did that idea come from and in what has it added something to the stories?
As soon as I knew I was going to write about that era I knew I’d have to make Duffy a Catholic. Catholics at that time were only about 10 to 15 per cent of the RUC – because of institutional bias and because the IRA put a bounty on Catholic RUC officers – so it was too delicious to not make him a Catholic. All those complications and fracture lines and whispers and innuendo!
Even though he’s cynical and edgy, he seems to go through a kind of disillusionment in both Cold, Cold Ground and I Hear the Sirens in the Street. How has he developed from the cases in these books?
I do think he becomes more cynical as the series progresses. In the early 1980s in Ulster it just seemed that the tidal wave of violence was never going to stop. In fact, it looked like it was getting worse, so no wonder people got fed up and cynical and/or emigrated.
In the Morning I’ll Be Gone contains a locked-room mystery – can you tell us about that briefly, and what inspired you to pull a characteristic of Golden Age crime fiction into your gritty new thriller?
I’ve always been a HUGE fan of locked roomers, or impossible murders if you prefer that nomenclature. I read Rue Morgue when I was very young and then I discovered John Dickson Carr and I was off to the races. There are great ones by Ellery Queen, Dorothy L Sayers and Agatha Christie; The Hollow Man is a particular favourite. I’m sorry that this particular genre has fallen out of favour a little bit in western mystery writing – although its still very big in Japan – because it’s so much fun. And as much fun as it is to read its wonderful to write! Coming up with an original, logical, locked room mystery? Harder than it looks. And then drib drabbing the information so as not to give away the solution but still allow the reader to solve it, at the same time or before the detective… An interesting challenge.
You grew up in Northern Ireland through many of those difficult years. Has writing these books been cathartic for you?
I was a Protestant working class kid growing up in a Protestant housing estate in the north Belfast suburbs. Things which didn’t seem weird at all to me then are definitely weird now: the kerbstones painted red white and blue, the Union Jacks everywhere, getting a lift to school every morning with an Army major who had to check under his car for mercury tilt switch bombs (and some mornings when it was raining he didn’t check), the presence of the loyalist paramilitary groups, the ongoing violence of the Troubles, but also a strange feeling of working class togetherness. Everyone was poor, unemployment was sky high, but all the kids played together in the street, could sleep over at anyone’s house and have dinner at any house in the street. It’s been very cathartic and interesting delving into that world from the perspective of 10,000 miles away and 30 years.
The Sean Duffy books were to form a trilogy – is that still the case or will we see him again perhaps?
I wrote a few chapters of a possible fourth book as a possible teaser at the end of book 3. They didn’t end up using them but I still think it’s a good idea. Maybe a fourth book will happen or maybe I’ll just leave it there…
And somewhat related to that, what’s next for you?
The next book I’ve got coming out is a standalone mystery set in 1906 in the German colony of Deutsch New Guinea. It’s loosely based on the true story of a murder within a strange group of German nudists on an isolated German territory in the Pacific. It’s called The Sun Is God.
In the Morning I’ll be Gone is released on 30 January. Watch for our review soon. The series has been optioned for television as well.