Perhaps it’s too soon after St. Patrick’s Day and the celebration of all things Irish to bring up the country’s unfortunate and fairly recent history, the guerrilla war between paramilitary organizations associated with the Catholics and the Protestants in Northern Ireland, which the Irish, with characteristic understatement, refer to as the Troubles. However, if you are interested in getting a sense of what it was like to live in Northern Ireland during that tempestuous period (which more or less ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Belfast agreement), but don’t want to delve into nonfiction, let me suggest a fascinating alternative: the series of novels by Adrian McKinty revolving around Sean Duffy, a Catholic police officer in Belfast, who not only has to deal with all the ordinary crimes police officers face all over the world, but also the suspicions of his fellow officers due to his religion and background, and the suspicion of his fellow Catholics due to his profession. Sean is an interesting character, and he grows and develops over the series of books, the most recent of which has the (in my opinion too long) title of Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly.
You could start with the most recent book, which finds Sean investigating a particularly bizarre murder: a man shot with a crossbow in front of his own home in 1988 Belfast. As is the case with good police procedural series (such as the Harry Hole novels of Jo Nesbo, set in Norway), there is more going on than just the investigation of a single case, and here Sean has a lot on his plate: his relationship is falling apart, he’s in trouble (not for the first time in the series) with Internal Affairs, and there’s some unknown person or persons hunting him for reasons he doesn’t know. As he digs into the murder case, he finds himself getting closer and closer to his own destruction.
But if you, like me, want to start a series at the beginning, you can read them in order: first, The Cold, Cold Ground, then I Hear the Sirens in the Street, then In the Morning I’ll Be Gone, then Gun Street Girl, then Rain Dogs and finally you can turn to the latest. You won’t be disappointed, and by the end of the series you’ll probably feel you have a much better insight into what was really going on between the nationalists and the loyalists and the ordinary people caught between the paramilitary groups during the Troubles.