I Hear the Sirens in the Street by Adrian McKinty
The point of these reviews is to give you a piece of my mind. In doing so, I’m showing you who I am and how opinionated I can be. And this is done just by selecting words and stringing them together into sentences. Some may think this clever stuff but, as authorial voices go, it’s actually not a difficult trick to pull off. Authors who write fiction and create characters have a more difficult time. They have to strike a balance. On the one hand, they need to establish their own unique voices. That’s the major part of their brand, the way in which they appeal to their readers. Some write in short sentences. Even the idea of using words of more than two syllables (sorry) is anathema (only joking). Others think and write in a more complicated way. Their sentences go on for ever.
They don’t like short paragraphs, even for emphasis!
Over time, authors find the readers who like their voices. But that’s only half the battle. Fiction depends on presenting characters who act and speak in credible ways. Readers have to feel they know and understand the people they read about. They must want to identify with them and vicariously experience the situations described in the books.
Even when the novel is a first-person narrative, the protagonist’s voice is not the author’s voice. When we see a painting, we might suspect the identity of the artist but looking for the signature confirms it. In a novel, you hear the author’s voice through the voices of the characters he or she creates. The most successful books have a personality of their own. That’s what makes us fans. It carries us from one book to another even though the content in terms of characters and situations may be radically different.
I Hear the Sirens in the Street by Adrian McKinty (Seventh Street Books, 2013) Book Two: The Troubles Trilogy. A Detective Sean Duffy Novel is following the history of the day. Argentina invades the Falklands and the DeLorean factory continues to deliver those cars with the gull-wing doors that can fly owners into the future. We first find our hero, now promoted to Inspector, exchanging friendly fire with a watchman when they’re called out to an abandoned factory site to investigate a blood trail. Such are the challenges when plainclothes police officers respond to a call. After persuading the old soldier to stop shooting, they find a body, cut to fit into a suitcase. Even on a good day, this would be bad news. That it seems to be a foreigner adds to the burden of paperwork and probably means the crime will be kicked upstairs for politically more cautious officers to investigate. This coincides with a blip in Sean’s relationship with Laura so his normal routines are disrupted. Life can be a real bitch in a town called Malice. When the cadaver turns out to be American and the poison used to kill him is very obscure, the case looks challenging, but then the case in which the body was dumped turns up a clue. And the clue leads them to another death that’s in the record books as an IRA hit. . . Pursuing this trail gives us a delightful piece of investigative logic including the canonical dog that fails to bark.
It’s at this point that the book takes off from a police procedural into faintly surreal thriller territory as the girl on the motorcycle, the one you only see through a glass darkly, turns out to be a fan of Doctor Faustus. She’s a kind of agent provocateur, a challenge to the macho Duffy who takes such inordinate pride in his investigative skills. Perhaps if he’s less than a good detective, he shouldn’t be so cocksure of himself. In the end, of course, there are answers. But our hero has to pay a heavy price to get them. You might wonder why he would be so persistent. The answer is, as you might expect, slightly complicated. Some detectives are dogged. While this is sometimes thought an admirable quality, it tends to be a more boring trait and the resort of the unimaginative. Sean Duffy is a detective with flair. He’s blessed with an analytical mind and, even when he knows the risks, is not afraid to use it. Having been in close proximity to an exploding terrorist bomb, he believes his survival is a kind of investment in the future. Individuals cannot do much on their own, but if there were more like him, Northern Ireland would become a better place. It will probably never be an entirely normal place, but any improvement is to be welcomed.
Why have I used the word surreal to open the previous paragraph? The answer revolves around the culture of Northern Ireland. Over the decades, the flow of life in the province has been distorted. Those lucky enough to live in broadly stable and peaceful cultures view events in places like Belfast as somehow stepping outside the normal constraints of logic. They shake their heads at news from the province, refusing to accept this is normality for those who live in this place. On the other side of the divide, the people’s defence to the horrors around them is a black humour. When you are surrounded by pain and death, the only way to deal with it is by finding humour in the macabre and the denial of hope. It’s a kind of satirical submission to the inevitability of death.
It seems to me I Hear the Sirens in the Street is the final step in Adrian McKinty’s journey to perfect his author’s voice. This is a book of realism yet, because of the humour, it also captures the sectarian tensions in a way that makes them more bearable for the modern reader. I find McKinty’s voice particularly pleasing in this book. In earlier novels, I think he was trying to hard to be “amusing”. Here the humour is more organic, emerging with a more natural feel and making this book particularly satisfying. So I unhesitatingly recommend this second episode in Sean Duffy’s career. I find him fascinating as a character. It will be interesting to see, having survived two books, whether he can live to fight on at the end of the trilogy.
Follow this link for An interview with Adrian McKinty.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.