Written by Adrian McKinty, narrated by Gerard Doyle — One of the reasons I looked forward to listening to the audio version of this excellent police procedural was having heard Gerard Doyle’s version of Adrian McKinty’s first Sean Duffy book, The Cold Cold Ground. Like that earlier book, Gun Street Girl takes place in Belfast, in the mid-1980s this time, with The Troubles continuing to provide a fine backdrop of tension and mayhem. It’s the fourth of a planned trilogy, because McKinty – like his readers – couldn’t quite let Sean Duffy go.
The complex plot grows out of actual events of the era, including missile thefts from Belfast aerospace company Short Brothers (a convoluted affair in itself) and the hostile environment created by the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and has been reviewed in detail by Crime Fiction Lover here. In brief, Duffy is out of step as usual with his confreres in law enforcement. He experiences the predictable jibes for being a Catholic in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and when a murder investigation takes him and a new recruit to Oxford, England, they encounter a more generalised anti-Irish prejudice. The first indication of friction ahead is when they’re met at the airport by an Oxford policeman carrying a sign reading “Daffy.” “That’ll be me,” Duffy deadpans. Then they’re presented with a bottle of whiskey. The British coppers apparently believe the Irish police will be satisfied to sit in their cosy B&B and drink. In this, they find they are seriously mistaken. (Unless I mis-heard, Oxford is referred to as ‘Morse-land,’ in a nice homage.)
What has taken Duffy and Constable Lawson to Oxford is the unraveling of a case that at first appears open-and-shut. A couple is found murdered, and it looks as if their son shot them then committed suicide. Under Duffy’s supervision, Detective Sergeant McCrabban is technically in charge of this investigation and is ready to close the books on it, but something’s not quite right. For one thing, no one really wants Duffy and McCrabban poking around in it, which is enough to start any crime reader’s antennae quivering.
Meanwhile, Duffy’s future with the RUC faces an almost-certain dead-end, and a female MI5 agent tries to recruit him for her agency, though to me he seems a dubious candidate. All things considered, though, a change of employer is more than a wee bit tempting. She’s the Gun Street girl of the title, and, as Tom Waits would have it, Duffy will “never kiss a Gun Street girl again.”
Gerard Doyle has won numerous Earphones Awards from AudioFile, and has a solid history narrating mysteries and thrillers, including those by Val McDermid, Jeffrey Archer, and Ken Bruen, as well as McKinty. In this book, he must present various Irish and English accents and does so quite effectively, to my American ears. By contrast, the US accent of a dodgy Southerner who lurks on the story’s edges was unconvincing.
I particularly admire the way Doyle narrates McCrabban – low and slow-talking, but not slow-witted – and the bright and eager recruit Constable Lawson. He does an effective job with the female characters, too, going soft, not high. Detective Duffy’s voice is crucial, as he tells the story in first-person narration, and Doyle captures him – and McKinty’s dry, self-deprecating humour – beautifully.
You can read our interview with Adrian McKinty here.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars