The Cold Cold Ground: A Detective Sean Duffy Novel - Adrian McKinty

~~Moved from GR~~


The Cold Cold Ground (Troubles Trilogy #1)

by Adrian McKinty


I wish I were
In Carrickfergus
Where the castle
Looks out to sea...

But take my word for it, in 1981, you'd rather be anywhere else. In the town of Carrickfergus, near Belfast, the Troubles are rampant: IRA terrorists and all sorts of other splinter groups bomb and murder at random, Irish prisoners are dying from hunger fasts, and the public outrage is mounting to the boiling point. It's a really, really bad time to be a Catholic police officer working for the British government, but Sgt Sean Duffy has not only embraced his career; he's hoping to make waves on a big murder case. But he quickly discovers that the case is a tangled mass of secrets, lies, and treachery--never a good combination in the volatile atmosphere of Northern Ireland.

OK, the good bits first: McKinty did a brilliant job capturing the atmosphere of the war-torn 1980s Ireland. As an American born after the Troubles ended, I'm embarrassed to admit I knew practically nothing about it; this book explores not only the simple facts, but also the nuances of the conflict. I am shocked at how precarious the world of Northern Ireland was. Although the book is a wonderful exploration for people unfamiliar with the events, someone who actually has knowledge about this time would probably appreciate the book even more; there are a multitude of casual references to events that I know nothing about. It is difficult for me to picture a world in which one must routinely check for land mines in the streets and bombs under cars because of an almost purely nationalistic battle. I'm a product of my time: most of the terrorism I know of is from radical Islamists, and I think it's actually a valuable reminder of (1) how Christianity has been quite recently involved in precisely the same tactics, and (2) just how wrong the American stereotype of a terrorist often is. I don't really understand why ripping up your own country with terror and war is patriotic, but hey, terror in general escapes me. Anyway, I really appreciate the opportunity to explore this time period and this alien world.

However, I didn't like the book. Now, this is a serious your-mileage-may-vary sort of book, and as a caveat, when I start getting annoyed, I basically start picking the book to pieces, castigating everything with typically unjustified criticism. Not to mince words, I found the plot convoluted, unrealistic, and melodramatic, the protagonist arrogant and unlikeable, and the language a glutinous and ridiculous attempt at poetic prose. We have a protagonist who thinks he's smarter than everyone else he meets, is wrong more times than should be humanly possible, and carries on through it all with his armour of arrogance unscratched and undented. We have conspiracies galore, policemen who break into buildings and threaten people without compunction or reprisal, super-spies who can do whatever they damn well please, practised gunmen who miss their targets with semiautomatics from ten feet away, etc, etc. . However, I think it was the language that offended me most. Sure, we have super-concentrated Instant Paraphrases and Checkov Paraphrases--for instance, there's a multipage digression about 90% in which is almost a word-for-word repetition from around the 10% point. He also tends to repeat nouns and verbs sentence from sentence, e.g.,

"I asked him for a bag of crisps. He didn't have a bag of crisps." or
"She began to cry. 'Will you stay?' I stayed. or
"I looked for meaning. There was no meaning.

Once or twice is fine, but this repetition is practically ubiquitous.

At times, the language devolved into a not entirely successful attempt to be Eliot or Yeats. Now, again, not only is evaluation of language a subjective task, but I admit here and now that I have no poetry in my soul. For all I know, this is beautiful and lyrical, but it came off to me as a rather pretentious attempt at Eliot pastiche. So that you can make up your own mind, I've included a few quotes, randomly selected, that I found irritating; the indentations and spaces are from the original text. If you like them, then I think this book is definitely worth a try. It would be a boring world if we all had the same reading preferences.


Some of them I liked:

Fifty thousand umbilical cords of black smoke uniting grey city and grey sky.


I stirred from a dream of water.
My body floating on the paraffin fumes above the river and the sea.

Some of them, not so much:

Light and fear and existential depression leaking through the curtains.

I've never liked the woods.
My grandmother told me that the forest was an opening to someplace else.
Where things lurked.
Things we could only half see.
Other beings.
Shades of creatures that once walked the natural world.
Redunant now.
Awaiting tasks.
Awaiting their work in dreams.

I sat in my little existential prison before going out into the bigger existential prison of Northern Ireland.

Hey, maybe it's all good poetry; how would I know? I can actually see the appeal of some of these; what really irritated me was the mixture of shocking coarseness and overblown language of the sex scenes, e.g.

"She shook her head, smiled and kissed my furrowed brow. Her lips were soft and she smelled good.
I kissed between her breasts and I kissed her belly and I kissed her labia and clitoris. She was a woman. I wanted that. I needed that.
We made love until the rain began and the bishop on the Chess logo faded and finally guttered out."

So he names various female sexual organs, then states that the owner of said organs is female. Pardon the profanity, but no sh*t, Sherlock. Then he notes that he likes that she's female, which I consider was pretty well covered by the kissing aspect.

'We were nearly killed today,' she said.
'Not really.'
'Doesn't it turn you on?'
'You turn me on,' I replied and kissed her again.
She tasted of gin and better times.
I kissed her breasts and her belly and laid her down on the bed.
'Fuck me, you bitch!' she moaned.
We had hard, rampant animal sex and then she climbed on top of me and we fucked again."


"I lay on the mattress and I was so beat she made love to me in the cowgirl and swan positions with my cock deep inside her and she grinding with her hips and knees. We came together and she lay beside me laughing."

I can't find the others in a cursory examination and have no real interest in hunting them out, but you get the idea.  Yeahh...those scene kinda ruined it for me. If you're ok with those sections, it's probably worth a look.