Title: The Cold, Cold Ground
Author: Adrian McKinty
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Historical
Publisher: Blackstone Audiobooks
Rating: 5-stars – Damn near perfect. I loved it!
“The riot had taken on a beauty of its own now. Arcs of gasoline fire under the crescent moon. Crimson tracer in mystical parabolas. Phosphorescence from the barrels of plastic bullet guns. A distant yelling like that of men below decks in a torpedoed prison ship. The scarlet whoosh of Molotovs intersecting with exacting surfaces. Helicopters everywhere: their spotlights finding one another like lovers in the Afterlife.
And all this through a lens of oleaginous Belfast rain.”
The Cold, Cold Ground is a near perfect audiobook. The setting is one that is endlessly fascinating to me: A turbulent, highly divided Ireland in the height of “the Troubles” during the 1980s, with Protestants against Catholics, riots, bombings, riots, IRA hunger strikers, and check points by British soldiers. Gerard Doyle, the narrator, perfectly captures the voices of 30-year old, university-educated Detective Sergeant Duffy. Duffy is a Catholic detective living in a Protestant neighbourhood in Carrickfergus in 1981, invesitgating a strange string of murders. McKinty communicates the historical facts of the time, but by making you experience and feel them, instead of telling you. After doing some research, I learned that the author actually grew up in the area, and you can tell through the details. The fact that no one can afford a car in Belfast, yet the town is bulldozing buildings for car parks, or having to take a boat to England to get an abortion, the natural use of Irish slang, and the casual acceptance of the extreme violence that Ireland faced at that time.
Alongside this already interesting plot is the serial killer aspect. Duffy must navigate terrorist groups, heightened religious tensions, and a serial killer targeting gay men at a time when homosexuality is illegal, and when “Ireland doesn’t have serial killers.”
One thing which I think is key to a crime novel is not being able to guess who the killer is, or what the ending will be. A Cold, Cold Ground certainly lives up. There were so many misdirections, in both suspect and clues, that I had no idea what the actual motives of the killer were until Duffy figured them out.
Shaun is an excellent protagonist. Smart, funny, sarcastic, extremely competent, but not above making questionable moral decisions. He is very confident in his abilities as a detective, despite being fairly young for his station, and only having investigated one other murder case which didn’t go well. He is also extremely serious, yet relaxed, smart yet still learning. The narrator does an excellent job of communicating these characteristics, and they were ones I especially related to, being in a similar position in my career. It was nice to experience a character who is the same age as me, and who actually acts his age. He is somewhere in between having serious responsibility and still making mistakes. He owns a house but isn’t married, he drinks but always shows up on time for work, and he is confident in his job but still makes mistakes. He gives into temptation, has a bit of a temper, and sometimes accepts bribes.
I highly recommend the audiobook to truly experience this story in all it’s Irish glory!