Adrian McKinty conceived the Sean Duffy series as a trilogy, and what a glorious trilogy it was. Set in Ireland during the troubles the three books (In the Cold Cold Ground, I Hear Sirens in the Street and In The Morning I'll Be Gone) were noir fiction at its best. The second book was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly award for best Australian crime fiction. The third book won that award in 2014. But you can't keep a good copper down, and Sean Duffy is a good copper. And this fourth outing is the arguably best in the series.
It's 1985 and Duffy is still thanklessly working as a Catholic detective in a mainly Protestant police force, drinking, smoking and watching his country go to hell in a handbasket. Duffy is the classic noir protagonist. His narration is full of delicious, world weary cynicism. He has women but he can't keep them. He doesn't seem to believe in anything, but his sense of justice keeps driving him forward to the truth. The MI5 think this might make him a perfect recruit but Duffy is not quite sure.
The opening two chapters - a multiagency operation gone wrong and Duffy bailing out a celebrity in a brothel, set the scene. But the action doesn't start until a wealthy couple are found shot dead in their locked house and their son, one of the main suspects, commits suicide. Duffy, being Duffy, follows the trail relentlessly, not stopping when the case overlaps with another involving possibly stolen missiles, IRA hardmen and the door of the US consulate. When the case takes on a political dimension Duffy pressed on when more sensible people would slowly back away.
What sets the Sean Duffy novels apart is their unerring sense of place and time. McKinty puts the reader in Belfast during the riots that followed the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. The cultural references, the sense of danger, the music, all build a tangible atmosphere. But they are also great crime novels. In the previous novel the mystery was slightly tangential to the main plot. It was a hurdle that Duffy had to get over to move on to the action. In Gun Street Girl the murder investigation is at its heart and the repercussions of Duffy's desire to see justice done and learn the truth relentlessly drive the action forward.
While there are overt and subtle call-backs to previous books, Gun Street Girl can easily be read as a stand alone crime novel. But this is a fascinating and evolving series and a hinted fifth instalment can only be a good thing.