Set in the early 1980's, I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET is the second book in a trilogy built around Sean Duffy, a Catholic cop working in the reality of Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland in the middle of The Troubles. This is when neighbourhoods and towns are divided by religion and loyalty, when unemployment and community disaffection are soaring, and local cops check under their cars for bombs every single morning they head out for work.
It's a bit disconcerting to think that this is a timeframe that many of us know well, although it's now regarded as "the past" or historical. After all, this is my teenage, young adult years. Hence there's much that resonates, even in another country. The music, the clothes, the vinyl LPs. The way that Duffy's evenings are spent with the record collection, because TV is so dire, there's not that much difference between my rural Australia and his Carrickfergus. There is, however, a big difference when it comes to the society in which Duffy is operating. The Troubles override everything. The tensions between religions and alliances are palpable, and the isolation of the unemployed and the powerlessness of people playing out in violence and disruption is visceral.
The complications of the plot in this book are partially the complications of that life, a torso in a suitcase, the need to track down an identity, and a murderer fighting for focus every day with sectarian violence, police station bombings, neighbourhood division and the pressures of political interference. The picture drawn is clearly a society tearing itself limb from limb, and for a while it almost seemed like the idea of a limbless body was some sort of fascinating metaphor. But, as in real life, there's nothing glorious or meaningful about yet another self-interested, self-involved murder and somewhere, deep under the layers, it all comes down to one of the same old same old - money, sex, influence or power. Having said that, there is a bit of heavy lifting going on towards the end of the book and whilst some readers might find some of the plot elements a little bit dodgy, for this reader, it didn't require too much effort to just go with the flow.
As a central character, Sean Duffy is a keeper. He's flawed, complex without being complicated, very real and profoundly likeable. The situation in which he lives his life is stark and beautifully drawn. The dialogue and interaction between the characters is absolutely pitch perfect, you can see, hear, feel these people's presence. The writing is glorious, the books are littered with the most lyrically beautiful passages, particularly where McKinty steps up to describe the worst of possible circumstances and events.
For this reader, I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET is possibly not quite as perfect as THE COLD COLD GROUND, in the same way that I sometimes ponder whether the Scottish Play is not quite as perfect as Hamlet.