Book review: I Hear the Sirens in the Streets

i-hear-the-sirens-in-the-streetFor a writer who once decried the notion of book series as a tired formula, Adrian McKinty is remarkably good at them. I Hear the Sirens in the Street is the second in a series of three books set during the height of Ireland’s civil war in the seventies and eighties and featuring Detective Sergeant Sean Duffy.

Just to recap, Duffy is a Catholic in a Protestant dominated police force in a Protestant dominated town. He’s intelligent, has a nose for trouble and a determination not to back down in the face of threats from higher up in the police, or anywhere else for that matter. He also has good taste in music and, as the book opens, a deteriorating love life. In other words, he’s a well-rounded character in a hellish situation.

I Hear the Sirens in the Street kicks off the discovery of a body in a suitcase in an abandoned factory. Well, not exactly a body, the torso with the other bits sawn off. It belonged to an American citizen, a former US Marine during WWII. The American was poisoned with a very rare flower, frozen, and then cut up. Looking into the murder, it’s not long before Duffy is rubbing up against bent paramilitaries, an ambitious American carmaker and officials higher up in the police who just want to forget the whole thing.

Two things elevate this book from a solid police procedural thriller to a much more dark, complex and satisfying read.

The first is how McKinty handles the period detail of Ireland during the Troubles. The poverty, bad food and crap weather is just part of it. He paints a nightmare world of sectarian violence, corruption and paranoia. I Hear the Sirens and the first book in the series, The Cold Cold Ground (which I reviewed on this site here) are one of the most vivid depictions of civil strife I can remember reading.

The second is the writing style. McKinty has always had a nice turn of phrase. But his last few books are getting to that space occupied by the likes of Don Winslow and Dennis Lehane, writers who are so on top of their game their books look almost effortless. Sharp, sparse prose, wonderful single sentence descriptions. It gives the self-professed crime writers among us something to aim for.

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