Written by Adrian McKinty — Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly is the sixth book in Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy series. It opens with RUC detective Duffy being led at gunpoint deep into the woods by a small group of thugs. His life cooly flashes before his eyes. He thinks of his girlfriend, parents and little daughter, wanting her to be the last thing in his head before the big sleep.
McKinty leaves Duffy in limbo and jumps back in time showing you how he got into this mess in the first place. You see him on vacation with his girlfriend and daughter at his parent’s house. Duffy’s sweet, music-loving father wants to make a pilgrimage to a holy Catholic site off the Irish coast and asks his son to join him. Scenes like this are a far cry from the cold dark wood of death that opens the book. In juxtaposition, the two very different atmospheres imbue everything with a sense of drama. Will Duffy make it out of the woods alive? Why is he there in the first place? What went wrong?
He doesn’t want to go on the pilgrimage with his old man so instead he takes a murder case that brings him back to Carrickfergus. When he arrives, everything is a mess. The cops have left the body lying uncovered in the road and the only viable witness might be a goat. The victim is a small time Carrickfergus drug dealer who has been shot with an arrow and is the second person to die that way in the area.
Duffy’s life becomes chaotic as he dives into the investigation. Everything that he knows is soon put into question. His affluent Protestant girlfriend Beth returns from holiday and pressures him to move to a house in the country owned by her father, away from the working class estate Duffy inhabits.
The detective’s health is in decline. Years of steady boozing, two packs a day, as well as recreational pot use have given him asthma. The doctor won’t clear him for duty unless he cleans up his act. Duffy faces a crisis of self in this book. You like Sean Duffy and relate to his struggles as he navigates both the crime he is attempting to solve and the personal foibles that stand in his way.
Larger issues loom in the chaos of this novel as the murder appears to be linked to something bigger and more connected to the history of Northern Ireland. There are a few suspects to investigate, one being Direct Action Against Drug Dealers (DAADD), which would tie the murder to the IRA. The book takes place in the late 80s and McKinty is showing the early seeds of a sectarian organisation that actually exists but which began its activities in the 90s.
Police at the Station does have a tendency to drag in the middle section. Conversations go on a bit too long, and you end up wanting things to pick up. The fast-paced ending makes up for this, but not fully.
McKinty introduces a few threads early in the book but seems to let them slip as the story continues. Duffy’s asthma and health figure heavily in the opening chapters but then aren’t really picked up again in the second half. The issues of his drinking and pot use are forgotten and we never really see him cut back, which breaks down the believability of the world. These inconsistences combined with a few over-the-top scenes, as well as a murder case that becomes less important as the book goes on, are all distracting and take away from the novel as a whole.
In the end, Police at the Station is a smart, funny, and distinctly Irish first person read that is occasionally flawed but has tons of great asides and references. The tips of the hat to other crime fiction detectives (Maigret, Laidlaw, Marlowe, etc) are wonderfully done, and literature, music, and popular culture references abound. Duffy is a cool detective, one you could easily imagine grabbing a drink with Wallander at the kitchen table or with Rebus at the Oxford Bar, though all three would do better to refrain.
The sixth book in the Sean Duffy series is a solid addition. Fans of the series will be delighted with its true to form feel and anyone new to it will have no problem jumping right in. Those looking for a fast-paced, intelligent, and self-aware detective book will love Police at the Station.
Rating: 4 Stars