So thrilled to find Adrian McKinty‘s Detective Sean Duffy series with this entry to the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original. I’m a fan of British, Irish, Scottish, heck, even Wales-ian police procedurals, and Gun Street Girl was my introduction to a great series.
It’s 1985, and Sean Duffy’s a Belfast cop, and a Catholic one at that. As a result, he never gets in his car without checking underneath for a car bomb. He’s evidently had a checkered past. (Totally going to check out the backlist.) He’s got a new boss who’s a bit of a wuss, and a team that includes a trusted #2, DS McCrabban, also known as Crabbie; and two new constables, the brainy but still-wet-behind-the-ears male half of the pair, Lawson, and Fletcher, the straight-arrow female officer who seemed not too quick on the uptake. Add in the Special Branch agent who’s trying to recruit him away from the RUC, a not-too-committed reporter girlfriend, and a wide range of characters associated with both sides of “The Troubles,” and it’s an entertaining mix.
Gun Street Girl starts out with a cock-up of an inter-agency sting to capture American gunrunners. Duffy sees what should be done, watches those in charge not do it, observes the ensuing mess, and wanders away, mid-sting. Thus does McKinty ably showcase Duffy’s skill and attitude.
Back in Carrickfergus, Duffy and his team are called in to investigate the murder of a man and his wife and the disappearance of the couple’s adult son, Michael Kelly. The son had frequent arguments with his dad, and the easy answer is that Michael did it. And while he probably did, there are some things – especially the cold, clean crime scene – that indicate a professional hit. Michael’s body is subsequently discovered at the bottom of a cliff, a suicide note in his car, an open-and-shut case is not so clear-cut to DI Duffy. The team’s subsequent investigation uncovers a cover-up related to a heroin overdose, stolen Javelin missiles, and possible CIA skullduggery. That Duffy gets to the bottom of it all is unquestioned. But the unravelling is not without cost.
Here’s where McKinty gets full marks from me: plotting, the main character (love him!) and snarky humor (ditto!). I will definitely read the other books in the Duffy series. Needs work: many of the minor characters are drawn in very broad strokes (boss McArthur and American spy guy John Connelly) and the women characters, in particular, are cardboard cut-outs (reporter girlfriend Sara and special branch recruiter-slash-sexpot Kate).
Comparatively speaking, though, Gun Street Girl is pretty compelling despite these shortcomings. It’s a strong contender and excellent for its type. Not quite up to Berney’s book, though, so I’m going to rank it #2 on the list.
Literary Lunchbox Edgar Ranking: Best Paperback Original