The Cold Cold Ground
Review: It is Spring 1981. Police resources are stretched thin trying to keep a fragile peace in Ulster, and the last thing Detective Sean Duffy needs is a serial killer on the loose. But when the bodies of two gay men are found, shot in the head, each with a severed hand of the other nearby, Duffy suspects that someone may be targeting homosexuals in The Cold Cold Ground, the first mystery of "The Troubles Trilogy" by Adrian McKinty.
It isn't long before speculation becomes fact. Duffy receives a postcard in the mail from the killer. "[D]o not let them say I hate queers. I do not hate them. I pity them. My task is merely to free them from this world and let them have true judgement before the Lord. He, not I, will decide their fate." It is finding who decided their mortal fate that is of immediate concern to Duffy when he's presented with another case, that of a young woman found hanging from a tree. Almost certainly a suicide — her husband had just started a hunger strike in jail to protest the British occupation of Northern Ireland — but according to her family, she was supposed to have been in Dublin, not Ulster. All things considered, he simply doesn't have the time to deal with it, but he can't shake the feeling that somehow these proximate cases may be connected.
Though subtitled "The Troubles Trilogy", The Cold Cold Ground is first and foremost a police procedural-style whodunit. And a superior one at that. The "troubles" provide a backdrop to Duffy's investigation, and are seamlessly — and cleverly — interwoven into the plot. In an endnote, the author writes, "I wanted to set a book in this claustrophobic atmosphere, attempting to recapture the sense that civilization was breaking down to its basest levels." Indeed. There is a pervasive sense of claustrophobia here, a constant that is palpable to the reader. But also the uneasy, if pragmatic, acceptance of the unpredictable environment in which these characters live and work. At one point, after a discussion about the murders in the police headquarters, there is a pause. "Silence descended, punctuated by a distant rumbling in Belfast that could be anything from a ship unloading in the docks to a coordinated series of bombings." And then there's the constant fear of being injured or killed, not from doing one's job, but just for being. At one point Duffy is driving away from a sure beating by thugs when he realizes he's forgotten to check his car for a bomb. He wonders whether is it wiser to stop and check — and take a certain pounding from an angry mob — or escape and risk being blown to bits on the next slant of the road.
As powerful as the setting and environment is, it is the riveting, absolutely first-rate murder mystery storyline that is the hallmark of this thriller. There is no cliffhanger on the final page — the crimes are solved — but the ending is intentionally ambiguous for both Duffy and the reader, and in a good way, (presumably) setting the stage for the second book in the series, one that no doubt will be anxiously awaited by many.
Acknowledgment: Seventh Street Books provided a copy of The Cold Cold Ground for this review.
Review Copyright © 2013 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Henry Holt (Hardcover), April 2009
ISBN-13: 9780805089004; ISBN-10: 0805089004
Location(s) referenced in The Cold Cold Ground: Northern Ireland
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The Cold Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty — A Sean Duffy Mystery
Publisher: Seventh Street Books
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: November 2012
List Price: $15.95