Det. Sgt. Sean Duffy must deal with police bureaucracy as well as murder in McKinty’s sixth series novel set in 1980s Northern Ireland, Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly (Seventh Street).
How does Duffy balance office politics with case management?
What I wanted to do was to give Duffy as many problems as possible. Problems from the internal bureaucracy, problems on the domestic front, and of course trying to be an ordinary police detective in the time of a low-level civil war. The fun of the character has always been how Duffy rises to meet these challenges with reasonable good humor.
When you started the series, did you ever envision Duffy ending up a family man with a girlfriend and a baby?
No, I envisioned him ending up dead. The life expectancy for a Catholic policeman in Ulster in the 1970s and 1980s was not very high, so I didn’t really see him surviving through book six of this series. Luck has clearly played a big part in his survival. Luck and book sales.
In Police at the Station, the Irish Republican Army presence seems to loom larger than ever. How do you write about what is essentially an elephant in the room—an elephant with a lot of guns—without always focusing entirely on this “elephant”?
Mention of the IRA seems to put off English readers and confuse American ones. But I don’t have that luxury of avoiding the topic. My books are set in Belfast in the 1980s, and in the 1980s the IRA were involved in everything even when they weren’t involved on the surface. You look at all the big scandals of the time—such as drug running and institutional child abuse—and there was always a terrorist angle to the case, because the IRA on the Catholic side and Ulster Volunteer Force on the Protestant controlled huge geographical swathes of the city. I used to see this as a curse, but now I see this as a blessing, as I’m able to hold a mirror up to a society on the brink of collapse and examine the moral testing that comes when people are continually in extremis.
Have you considered writing contemporary crime fiction set in the region?
Yes, although that would be more of a challenge. Belfast is pretty boring now. I used to live in Oxford, where there hadn’t been a murder in eight years, but in the TV show Morse at the time there were two murders a week. Usually pretty gothic murders. The show bore no resemblance to the real world and got a bit silly towards the end. If I could bridge the dissonance between real-world, boring Belfast and a more interesting fictional one, I’d go for it.