Written by Adrian McKinty — Let’s start with the title. Like the rest of the books in the Sean Duffy series, it’s taken from a Tom Waits song. I’m not sure there’s a Tom Waits vibe to the books, but the author likes it like that so who am I to argue?
At a more literal level, the book certainly has rain. It’s set in Northern Ireland in 1987, and there’s a reassuring amount of drizzle, and one or two prophetic storms. There are dogs too, such as the police canines brought in to sniff their way around Carrickfergus Castle where the body of young journalist Lily Bigelow is found early one morning. It appears to be suicide, but what’s bothering DI Duffy of the local RUC station is that the citadel was locked overnight and the caretaker swears he searched the entire grounds twice, as he does every night. The body wasn’t there at 10pm so how did Lily Bigelow get into the castle? She certainly didn’t lift a two-ton portcullis.
There’s another dog later on, too. A wolf, actually. Despite one or two online rants about Nordic noir, Adrian McKinty gets in on the Scandi game by sending Duffy to Finland where out of the blue he’s invited to hunt a huge wolf on a secluded island. Lily Bigelow, an FT reporter, was in Carrick covering a Finnish trade delegation who were considering building an early mobile phone factory in Northern Ireland. She’d had a tip-off about a link between the Finns and a young offenders facility near Carrick. Did one of the Finns fancy having his way with young boys, and did the local paramilitaries, or someone else, give him access to the kids in the young offenders prison? When Duffy’s trying to follow up the connection between the Finns and Lily Bigelow, he unexpectedly comes face to face with a big wolf – a fitting metaphor for the real predators he’s hunting.
Then there’s Chief Superintendent Ed McBain. Yes, really. Isn’t it super that McKinty has named Duffy’s chief super after one of the most super talents in crime fiction? Don’t get too attached to him, though, because it looks like the reporter passed the tip about sex abuse to McBain before her death, and in due course he’s blown up by a massive car bomb. He was always going to be an IRA target, but Duffy doesn’t like the terrorist explanation, nor does he think that Lily Bigelow committed suicide.
Crime books are meant to have clever plots, but Rain Dogs has a surreal – if not hyper-real – quality to it. Earlier novels in this series have dealt with things like the IRA hunger strikes and the Brighton bomb that nearly killed Thatcher, with the author weaving recent history and fictional action together most pleasingly. Rain Dogs is more cerebral but it feels wilder and more unlikely, and yet it is even more compelling to read. It opens with a visit to Belfast by Muhammad Ali and Rev Jesse Jackson. Duffy is there as part of the boxer’s police protection. The boxer has never actually visited Belfast but McKinty spins a wonderful yarn around it making it seem like an entirely credible Ali moment.
On a more ominous level, the historical substance that McKinty brings into the mystery this time is the Jimmy Savile scandal. Duffy and his colleagues DS McCrabban and DC Lawson even visit the deranged paedophile DJ in his caravan parked outside Broadmoor Prison. There’s the suggestion that whatever Savile was up to might be linked to sexual abuse in Northern Ireland, and that the cover-up goes all the way to the top. After all, Jimmy Savile spent New Year’s Eve with the Thatchers at Chequers.
All this is peripheral to Duffy’s nuts and bolts investigation into Lily Bigelow’s death, given the castle was locked up when she’s supposed to have leapt from the rampart. He ponders how statistically unlikely it is for an RUC detective to face two locked-room mysteries in his career (two books back, he solved a murder in a locked pub). His underling DS Lawson spouts out a mathematical theorem, and Duffy begins to think this murder was designed specifically to mess with him. But who would do that, and why?
This is the best book in the series without doubt. It may sound like gonzo crime fiction but it is full of unlikely ideas, tangents and bizarre possibilities. Yet it’s all done in such a visceral and gritty setting, and Duffy’s character this time gives it further grounding. He matures further in Rain Dogs and, yearning for the younger woman who’s left him, is becoming a little less reckless and a lot more likeable. McKinty manages to make the unreality of being a murder detective in Belfast during the Troubles seem all the more, well… real.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars