Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Adrian McKinty, Belfast tour guide

I'm honor-bound not to quote yet from Adrian McKinty's new Cold Cold Ground because I'm reading an uncorrected proof.  Still, a few remarks are in order:

  • The hardest-hitting passages in this novel, set in the violent days of Northern Ireland's hunger strikes in 1981, denounce not the violence but rather the bravado and hypocrisy that attended the Troubles and the culture in which they unfolded. And make no mistake: there are bits in this novel to tick off fierce partisans of any of the conflict's  sides.
      
  • The sense of what it might have been like to live in those times is vivid but, more than that, convincing. This goes especially for the book's homely details and the off-hand observations by McKinty's Sean Duffy, a Catholic member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Among other things, McKinty, a longtime friend of Detectives Beyond Borders, would make a hell of a tour guide to Belfast.
     
  • Duffy is an educated man, a Catholic living and working among Protestants beset by more than the usual crime-fiction protagonist's self-doubts but such a vital observer of the human and social landscape that he never becomes a bore.
     
  • Ken Bruen is no longer the master of popular-music references in contemporary crime writing. And McKinty's are a lot funnier.
***
With an OK from the source, here's how the book opens: "The riot had taken on a beauty of its own now. Arcs of gasoline fire under the crescent moon. Crimson tracer in mystical parabolas ... "

Aestheticizing violence? Yes, but ...
"But that was a week ago and Frankie Hughes, the second hunger striker to die, had none of Bobby [Sands]'s advantages. No one thought Frankie was Jesus. Frankie enjoyed killing and was very good at it. Frankie shed no tears over dead children. Not even for the cameras.

"And the riots for his death felt somewhat ... orchestrated."
© Peter Rozovsky 2011

Labels: , ,

64 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

You can quote the book, I don't care. If nobody likes the quote I'll just lie and say we cut it.

I'd love to take people on a tour of Belfast or Carrickfergus. I remember going on a Sinatra Tour of Hoboken and the guy walking us around had a story for virtually every house and apartment building in the neighbourhood. I'm pretty sure I could do that with every house on Coronation Road, in Victoria Estate, in Carrick. One of the great things about growing up in public housing or in a very mixed income neighbourhood are the characters.

November 15, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ah, good! There a passages worth citing.

Your man Duffy is a participant and a fine guide at the same time. I'm no author, but it seems to me that's not the easiest thing in the world to pull off.

November 15, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

The great thing about Northern Ireland is that you can do a whole Passage To India thing by going just one street over from your own. That gives you a lot of possibilities.

November 15, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

My typing is shite. I meant "There are passages worth citing."

Yeah, so why the hell do publishers have the idea that readers aren't interested in Northern Ireland?

OK, it's a rhetorical question, but I do ask it from time to time.

November 15, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Stuart was told by his UK publishers to remove Belfast from the title Ghosts of Belfast. I was told by a producer at the BBC that the BBC had a policy of not commissioning anything about the Troubles. I also lost my American publishers as soon as I started writing about Northern Ireland. There is, I think, a feeling in the UK and US that we must all pull together and forget the unpleasantness of the past and move forward into a shining new era of brotherhood. If you look at the Irish fiction which really sells its wretched nostalgic stuff seen through a vaseline coated lens.

But who cares about the market? You tell the stories you want/need to tell.

November 15, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sure. That's why "Ghosts of Belfast" is "The Twelve" on Stuart's side of the pond. But "Cold Cold Ground" has bits that could piss off all parties to the Troubles, irrespective of nationality or religion. That ought to earn the book some credibility, and it might not be a bad selling point either -- privilege readers, make them feel tha they are getting the real story, and so on.

November 15, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

American readers interested in Irish fiction don't want the real story. They want easy listening.

November 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Time to shake the ****ers up.

November 16, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I think whats interesting about that quote and the stuff that comes after is that Duffy is broadly sympathetic to the Hunger Strikers (whose aims were very reasonable)but of course he's working for the Thatcher government who cannot possibly let them win.

November 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, but if I started discussing the hunger strikers' demands for a mere return to the status quo and about British incompetence, I'd wind up with a dissertation instead of a blog post, and I'd deprive myself of grist for future posts.

November 16, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I'll be interested to see how they deal with this in that new Meryl Streep movie about Mrs Thatcher. From the trailer it looks like they cover the Brighton Bombing but I don't know if they'll do the hunger strikes.

It was certainly an incredible time and unless I get caught up in a war, God forbid, it's the closest I've come to knowing what war feels like.

November 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thatcher and NI could be a movie of its own.

Closest thing I can imagine to war is reading Davd Peace ... of whom this book reminds me a bit.

November 16, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Sounds like a good one, Adrian and Peter. I do like your characters, Adrian. For me, it's the characters who define the novel. Historical and geographic setting are of interest only in so far as they allow us to see men and women struggle to make sense of their lives.

Yes, readers like happy stories about crime and violence. :)

Peter, I thought it was Rankin who started all that extraneous music stuff. I'm not up on popular music, and tend to skip all that, usually with a certain amount of resentment toward what I consider the author's self-indulgence. I may be wrong about that if the fans lap it up.

November 16, 2011  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

This sounds like one to look for, though I was more interested before you mentioned humor. I'm not the hugest fan of humor in my crime novels, but I do like Bruen (never thought of him as funny), so I'll give it a chance.

November 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kelly, I enjoy humor in my hard-boiled crime fiction, so I tend to overemphasize it in blog discussions. This book has good jokes, but it is by no means a comic crime novel. It is very much more a story of the main character's struggle to make his way in the chaos that his country has become.

November 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., Sean Duffy does nothing if not struggle to make sense of his life. I just happen to have a bit of an interest in Northern Ireland, stimulated in large part by the fine crime writing coming out of there.

Here's something I once wrote on this site about Rankin and music:

"I don't begrudge Rebus his love of the Stones, but their popularity is so widespread that a taste for their music is not unusual enough to serve as a distinctive character marker. Maybe that's supposed to be part of Rebus' everyman charm. It won't work for me until Rankin can tell me why Rebus' reaction to the Stones is different enough from yours or mine to hold my interest."

The musical references in The Cold Cold Ground are of a different sort. Sean Duffy listens to music, but we'll generally learn what he thinks about a given piece of music, why he likes it or why he doesn't. I had musical references of a different kind in mind, though. The chapter names play cleverly on song titles, including one that will be worth the price of the book.

November 16, 2011  
Anonymous Paul said...

I've read one Adrian Mckinty novel Falling Glass and that was pretty enjoyable.

Looking forward to this one!

November 16, 2011  
OpenID bookwitch said...

I never worry about quoting from proofs. It's like washing instructions; the publishers are trying to protect themselves.

Sounds like a great book. And it always makes sense to write about where you come from, and surely by now anything Irish is 'in', rather than something to be avoided?

November 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul, in the meantime, you might try the "Dead" trilogy: Dead I Well May Be, The Dead Yard, and The Bloomsday Dead. Read the first two before you read the third.

November 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Bookwitch, it's wonderful book, richer than most crime stories.

I always figure that there's at least a chance I could quote something from an ARC that might get changed in the final version. And some have typesetting and other errors that can inhibit understanding. I have deviated from my practice occasionally, however.

November 16, 2011  
Blogger Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Hey, I'm an American, and want the real story, not easy-listening,

November 16, 2011  
Anonymous Ali said...

followed the link from Adrian's blog...

I like pop culture references but I'm assuming that since this is set in 1984 these are 1984 references not contemporary ones? Unless we're in the territory of the deliberate anachronism which is always depressing.

November 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ali: No, the references are contemporary with the time of the book's setting (1981, not 1984), rather than with our own time. I detected no anachronisms on my (casual) reading of the novel, so I suspect that if there are any, they're minor.

By "contemporary," I don't mean that the references are just to songs and movies of 1981, but rather that they are to songs and movies that someone in 1981 might have known and thought about. The novel is not a Top 40 chart of the year's pop hits, in other words.

November 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sean: That's because you're a hard-bitten type of guy, at least in your choice of reading.

This will be a sensitive subject considering where you live and that the green, orange and white show up on your blog from time to time, but I've wondered since I started reading crime fiction from Northern Ireland and since I visited there whether the overwhelming perception in America that Irish=Catholic=nationalist=freedom fighters=good militates against the potential reception of nuanced but hard-hitting crime writing about Northern Ireland.

It does not take much study to see the the real history of the place is a lot more complicated than casual public awareness here would suggest. I never knew until I visited the Republican museum on the Falls Road in Belfast, for instance, that there had been such a thing as Irish-speaking Protestant nationalists. And it was Irish crime fiction where I first read the suggestion that the IRA and Sinn Fein are/were better organized fund-raising and media operations than the other side.

Are people in South Boston going to walk around reading Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville, in other words? (The question, of course, may indicate a bit of prejudice on my part.)

November 16, 2011  
Anonymous Ali said...

1981! right. thats what you get when you try to comment on 2 blog posts at the same time!

Good year for the movies 1981 with Stripes and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

November 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I liked "Raiders" so much that I stayed in the theater and watched it a second time. Those were innocent days, when one could get away with that sort of thing.

Another 1981 movie gets a mention in the book, with the added excitement of the possibility that the theater could get blown up. Little details like that make for vivid reading.

November 16, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Sean

You're the exception the proves the rule.

Ali

I have the same problem when commenting on blogs. Worse in fact.

Peter

I didn't actually get to go to the cinema until my tenth birthday because all the local cinemas had been firebombed. During the Godfather Part 3 someone called in a bomb threat and we were evacuated (in fact I may have been the only patron) and I got my money back which was a tremendous relief.

November 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Cinemas firebombed in Carrickfergus, too? When Gerard Brennan showed me around Belfast, he remarked that all the bombing had saved construction costs for renewal projects by eliminating the necessity to hire demolition contractors.

Hey, if Maxim Jakubowski ever brings out a sequel to Following the Detectives, perhaps you could contribute an essay on Belfast. I shall ask him at Crimefest if such a book is in the offing.

November 16, 2011  
Blogger Gordon Harries said...

There’s also a tremendous amount of psychological distance (in the UK at least) from the war in Northern Ireland.

I come from Leeds originally and, really, the only time the Northern Ireland ‘troubles’ penetrated our consciousness was when something local blew up (almost always blamed on the IRA in the first instance and then discredited as a theory.) or when the IRA blew up Manchester’s Arndale centre (in 1996) for the most part, it may as well have been happening in another world.

I’d agree that it’s a rich and fascinating history and it’s easy to access, but the will isn’t there for the most part.

November 17, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Strangely, Morse's listening to classical music worked for me. He was so wonderfully crotchety about it.

November 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gordon, perhaps there's distance in the Irish Republic as well. Garbhan Downey writes comic political/crime novels about the post-Troubles era. In one he has a Catholic character from Northern Ireland say ruefully that both the UK and the Republic regard Northern Ireland as an unwanted child they wish they could get rid of.

With time, perhaps, the curiosity to examine the Troubles dispassionately will grow. The crime authors who take up the subject today are doing so just a little more quickly than the public.

And what about America? We should be interested now.

November 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., presumably crotchety because he's devoted to the music to the point where it's part of his character. The same for a discussion of the Rolling Stones in one of Jo Nesbo's novels. The scene works because it's so funny and because Nesbo and his characters take rock and roll so seriously and are at such amusing cross-purposes in their opinion of the bsnd in question.

November 17, 2011  
Blogger Gordon Harries said...

Peter,

Have you seen ‘Bloody Sunday’? it’s a Paul Greengrass (who went on to do the second two Bourne movies) film about, well,….

Anyway, on my DVD there’s an extra in which the Irish actor James Nesbitt says much the same as the example you quote. That he lived up the road from the troubles, but that the troubles were a world away.

It’s dangerous to compare Northern Ireland and the War on Terror. They’re not symmetrical in terms of tone or remit as (many) have suggested…but I do think it’s a period that needs re-evaluating as we all get to grips with the damage that war does to society.

November 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gordon, I have not seen that movie, but McKinty, notoriously harsh in his judgment of movies about Ireland, liked that one.

I should be clear that when I wrote we in America should be interested in the Troubles now, I did not have the war on terror in mind at all. I meant merely that we in America have the distance that people in Ireland and the UK might lack, at the same time as we have a massive Irish American population.

Any number of these interesting crime writers out of Northern Ireland investigate the damage war does to society and the individuals that make it up -- the afterlife of the Troubles, I've called it here.

November 17, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

What I'd like to do is recreate my epic pub crawl around Carrick. There are places where I could certainly do with safety in numbers.

November 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Will each applicant be required to supply his or her own cosh, health insurance, and barf bag?

November 18, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I think a good pair of running shoes will suffice.

November 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, and stretch out to three weeks what you did in twenty-four hours. And you could play a fun game where you write "Fields of Athenry" and "God Save the Queen" (not the Sex Pistols' song) on pieces of paper, and each pub you enter, the group picks a piece of paper out of a hat and has to sing that song in full voice.

November 18, 2011  
Anonymous Jim said...

Not all Irish Americans think alike!

I read McKInty's DIMWB and I'm looking forward to this one.

November 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Jim, Adrian would be happy to be reminded of that, I'm sure. As for me, my own views may be somewhat narrow because I lived in and around Boston.

November 18, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Jim

Bien sur as they say in the old country.

Peter

Now thats a guaranteed recipe for fun/a hospital visit.

November 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, before I went off to Italy a few years ago, a colleague warned me which colors not to wear to which soccer team's games. Must be (or must have been) much worse in Northern Ireland's hot spots. I have a bright orange polo shirt I like to wear, but I imagine there parts of the country where an alternate wardrobe selection would be in order.

November 18, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I could mention three pubs in Carrick where you could be murdered (literally not metaphorically) for wearing a Glasgow Celtic shirt.

November 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had no scary moments in Belfast, but the first sight I remember was the "You Are Entering Loyalist Sandy Row" mural near the bus station as I arrived in city at dusk. Very mildly unsettling, that was. Then I remember the mighty roar from a gang of customers at the Rangers Supporters Club on the Shankhill Road, all the more creepy becaise it was a roar of joy, in response to "Go Rangers!" shouted from a passing tour bus.

November 18, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Peter, you should watch Bloody Sunday.

I read this book in manuscript form and I would recommend it to anyone who wants not just a nuanced view but a feel of the times as they were experienced by noncombatants.

For me it was interesting that the period being described was exactly the time that I made my first and for many years only trip to England. I did not get to Ireland that time but I was visiting some people who were watching the hunger strikes and Ian Paisley with great interest. Anyway, there was a lot of resonance for me reading the novel, and as I've said more than once, this really is the book I've been waiting to read from Adrian. And that's saying something, seeing how much I've enjoyed the others.

November 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm glad you put that the way you did. I sometimes fear that when I say a book taught me something about a country or a city, readers may think they're in for a lecture. That's not the case with this book.

Hmm, was Ian Paisley's name mentioned in the novel? (My failure to remember is a good sign; the book is not a checklist of historical figures trotted out for period authenticity.)

November 18, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I had to do a quick search to make sure that I hadn't superimposed my own memory, but yes. He's in the book.

Well, maybe he didn't make it to the actual book. That I can't tell you.

November 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, Gerry Adams appears as a character, and Martin McGuinness gets a mention or two. This makes sense, given that the protagonist is Catholic.

That is another instance of a crime writer from Northern Ireland creating a protagonist from the other political or religious side. McGilloway does this, as does Stuart Neville. Lots or narrative and imaginative territory in that one corner of a not so large island.

November 19, 2011  
Blogger Declan Burke said...

Peter - Cold, Cold Ground is a terrific book. And not all Southerners were disinterested in the Troubles, I think it's fair to say.

As for a tour of Carrickfergus, I got the McKinty version stone-cold sober early one morning, and about all I can say about that is you're probably a lot better off being rat-arsed drunk. Scary place. " ... yeah, and over there, they dragged a guy out of a pub and bounced beer kegs on his head until it exploded. And over there, see the that flag, well ..."

Mind you, McKinty once had a character describe Sligo people as sheep-fuckers. So maybe there's a parochial vibe to my anti-Carrick attitude ...

That said, the McKinty household hospitality is second to none.

Cheers, Dec

November 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gee, and most of what I saw of Carrickfergus was the castle, the gentle shore on a sunny day, and a delicious slice of salmon on a bed of dulse at the Joymount arms.

I did see some narrow gray streets that might have been more ominous had the day been less sunny and the beer not poured quite so well.

November 19, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Thanks for the thumbs up. Yes I feel too that its the book I was meant to write and whether it succeeds or fails (and its probably going to fail like all the others) its probably the only thing I've written that it is going to be remembered 100 years from now as a document of an insane time.

Dec

And I didn't take through you through the Estate although that would have been quicker. But it was early enough to still have had people up from the night before.

November 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Predictions are chancy things, but this book might well serve as worthy document of its time. I hope it does not turn out to be a lost classic, though.

I keep telling people (well, I've told one person) that I don't read Northern Ireland crime fiction because I'm interested in Northern Ireland, but rather that I'm interested in Northern Ireland because of its crime fiction (well, also because of its history, its natural beauty, its hospitable hosts, its euphonious accents, and its robustly fortifying breakfasts. But the crime fiction plays a significant part.)

November 20, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I really don't think your books could be classified as failures, Adrian, but I do agree that they haven't gotten the stateside recognition they rightly deserve.

Speaking of Norn Iron history, Philip Robinson has put up another nicely researched piece on what I think are the Carrickfergus environs here.

November 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

What the hell do bloody Americans know?

November 20, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

About celebrities, a lot.

About history--any history, not a lot.

I'd use myself to illustrate this, except that I don't really know all that much about celebrities either.

November 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Nah, some of my best friends are Americans, and I don't know if any of those easy truism about American ignorance have anything to them. I also can only guess why good books don't sell, and the guess that makes the most sense to me is that many publishers, like businesses in other areas, focus more and more on what's bigger and bigger and less and less on what could do wonderful things with a little effort behind it.

November 20, 2011  
Anonymous Ali said...

I'm waiting for the rest of the quotes!

November 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ali, you'll likely have found the opening, which Adrian posted at his blog. That opening hits like a punch in the stomach. Want more? i'll look for a couple when I get home. Want more than that? Buy the book!

November 21, 2011  
Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

I guess this is as good a place as any to ask Adrian and Peter (and whoever else).

Have you guys seen the Irish movie Hunger about Bobby Sands and the hunger strikes?

January 14, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know it, but I imagine it might make a good companion piece to The Cold Cold Ground whether or not it's a good piece of work.

The Cold Cold Ground is not about the hunger strikes as much as it's about Northern Ireland during the hunger strikes.

January 14, 2012  
Blogger Liam65 said...

Adrian -- terrific book. Picked up the audio version at the library, whoever did the reading did a bang-up job. Listening on my commute has me looking forward to traffic slow-downs.

Although I grew up in the Bronx, I spent summers at that time (79-83) on farms in Inishowen and North Cavan. The authenticity of the issues in the news, the language, etc, comes through quite well. I'll be stopping by a booksellers to pick up a paper copy of this and your other books to pass on.

March 02, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Liam, I almost with I had a long commute to work so I could listen to some of these fine audio books. Adrian has always had high praise for the audio versions of his novels.

March 02, 2012  
Anonymous Indian Tour Guide said...

Yeah, so why the hell do publishers have the idea that readers aren't interested in Northern Ireland?

March 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Because they're eejits.

March 13, 2012  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home