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And what of crime novels set in the North? May 13, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Northern Ireland that is? I mentioned earlier in the week that I’d read some of Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy series – Rain Dogs. This is centred on a Catholic detective sergeant in the RUC. It’s an interesting read for many reasons, not least one keeps wondering just what life was like for Catholic members of that force – it’s staggering at this remove to see just how few were in it at the time (and the PSNI albeit with problems does represent a break with that numerically). There’s a genuine camaraderie in it and difficult not to disagree that that would emerge, but how did matters function day to day, minute to minute? Did one integrate fully with the force or stand a little apart or some point between those? Or somewhere else? As I noted in that post I was bemused by it – there’s a lot less sense of confliction than I’d have expected for a force that itself was so controversial that the British themselves had to oversee its disbanding and the establishment of a successor. Perhaps this is dealt with in earlier instalments.

It’s not a direct history, for example in the first I read the Stone Roses are said to play Belfast, they did indeed but a year later than given in the book – there’s mention of a possible ‘anonymous’ SF MP as a suspect in something very unpleasant indeed but given there was only one SF MP full stop at the time that seems either mean spirited or an effort to gain some nominal balance with an equally anonymous ‘Official’ Unionist MP (the author has commented on Amazon that the work is fiction so perhaps the former is carping but the latter sits oddly). Some questions in regards to technology – did RUC stations have Apple Macs during that period? They could have but I’d have thought it more likely they used PCs.

It is a fast-paced read taking in the Troubles, Jimmy Saville (in a rather convincing scene that underscores how much license he was given by state and society and how difficult it might have been to even comprehend there was a problem) and the issue of abuse in the North and matters various.

Then there’s the one on the Brighton bombing which has one character outlining a potential future for the North which given the circumstances is remarkably cynical. But that’s the way it goes. There’s another on DeLorean which is no less cynical.

But what of other detective or crime novels set in the North? Could this become our version of Scandi Noir?


1. Phil - May 13, 2017

It’s a bit like the anonymous sub-sample problem – if the survey suggests that 50% of the male Brexit-supporting Protestants aged over 60 in your town would support a shoot-to-kill policy, and you know for a fact that there are only two of them… I had a similar reaction to Nicholas Searle’s A Traitor in the Family – the narrator certainly leaves you harbouring some very dark thoughts about someone who might as well be called Martin McAdams. This Guardian review is a bit harsh, but pretty much nails it for me – but I’d be very interested to know what anyone who knows the area better (in all senses) made of it.

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EWI - May 13, 2017

Speaking of which, ‘mad Irish killers’ have been a screen staple that has gone hand-in-hand since the Eighties heyday of the Special Relationship. It’s an interesting contrast with the absolute British meltdown that accompanied the making and release in previous years of such relatively restrained and sober fare as MICHAEL COLLINS and REBEL HEART.


2. 6to5against - May 13, 2017

I read one or two of Colin Bateman’s in the past. Surely they qualify. I thought he managed a reasonable balance between realism and fiction.

On the scandi-noir issue, I would imagine there is a problem with Northern police fiction becoming a whole genre: the intricacies of the sectarian/political divide would surely be too confusing to a casual reader. Though maybe a really good writer could make that the whole focus…..


3. roddy - May 13, 2017

AN elderly neighbour told me of being in hospital with an ex RUC man in Belfast.The cop was catholic and when he heard where my neighbour was from,he said he had served in South Derry.He confided in him that despite Magherafelt barracks coming under IRA attack several times during his time there,he was more afraid of his colleagues.He had the measure of some of his former colleagues and concluded they were far from being “good guys”.This was borne out when at least 2 of them were done for non conflict related killings and another was done for intimidating a neighbour he was in dispute with.If they were capable of things like this outsde of the”war” situation,what were they likely to do to sort out the”enemy”.


WorldbyStorm - May 13, 2017

There’s a couple of hair raising accounts online purporting to be by Catholic ex RUC men of some of the stuff they endured from colleagues. Has anyone done a study on this?


Dr. X - May 16, 2017

One of my great-grandfathers was a Catholic police officer in Belfast, back when it was still the RIC. He didn’t last long in the ranks when the middle initial changed.


4. roddy - May 13, 2017

The story of Sargeant Joe Campbell, a catholic based in Cushendall is a case in point.He was an old school ,peace time cop who probably thought policing to be “just a job” when he joined.He was in Cushendall in the 70s, a totally Nationalist area in the Glens but one barely effected by the troubles due to its remoteness. He stumbled on criminal activity by Special Branch men and their agents from the Ballymena area about 20 miles from his base .They shot him dead to stop him exposing them and tried to blame it on the IRA.One branch man was convicted but won his case on appeal and Joe Campbell’s family are still fighting for justice till this day.


5. CL - May 13, 2017

Sam Millar has written a number of crime novels set in the North. His father’s family were Protestant but Millar spent time in the IRA. He made his way to NYC and worked for Irish gangsters in the gambling trade.
‘On the Brinks’ is his story of how he and others robbed a Brinks depot in upstate NY. The first half of the book is a graphic account of his years in jail in N.I. Millar and Fr. Patrick Moloney did some time in prison for charges in connection with the robbery. Most of the money, several million, was never recovered. Millar was deported back to Ireland, and began writing crime novels.


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6. roddy - May 13, 2017

Coincidently,Danny Morrison has this very dayposted an article on his blog about the subject.Its titled “through RUC eyes” and is not entirely hostile. I’m sure WBS that Danny would not object to you publishing it here.


WorldbyStorm - May 14, 2017

Great minds… 😉 Here’s the link. Interesting…



7. Ramzi Nohra - May 14, 2017

I read a couple of jack Higgins books recently (a gui guilty pleasure I hadn’t indulged for about a decade). Both were about the North to a certain extent. The first – “The Violent Enemy” was about an ex-IRA guy who escapes from Dartmoor after the Border Campaign and gets involved in a roberry.
The second one “the savage day” was set in 1971 or 72 and features an ex British soldier trying to infiltrate OIRA (the only occasion I can think of when I’ve seen them portrayed in fiction). Both are mildly diverting. Also a lot more sympathetic to republicanism than one would expect from an ex-soldier brought up on the Shankhill!


WorldbyStorm - May 14, 2017

I seem to recall that the hero of one sequence was ex-OIRA, but I also have a feeling he later retconned that during the peace process so he was ex-PIRA!


8. Ramzi Nohra - May 14, 2017

Shout out to Gerald Seymour who I thought wrote pretty well on the North. I think at one point he said he would like to set all of his novels in the North but his publishers wouldn’t let him!


WorldbyStorm - May 14, 2017

Ah, interesting, hadn’t read those. Will do.


9. James - May 16, 2017

There’s a really, really clever story about decommissioning that starts the Belfast Noir collection, though the rest of it left me feeling a bit beige. I guess also it depends whether you mean hard-boiled, which there’s tons of, or specifically police procedurals that drill down on the RUC. I read The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville which had this proper dark but slightly contrived conceit that this ex Provo has to do something (violent) to atone for a series of victims who haunt him in madness or booze related hallucinations. I spent most of the audiobook waiting for him to buy a Christmas goose for a Tiny, ahem, Tim. But not a cop book. I have a vague recollection of harranging Richard Boyd Barrett last summer about what I drunkenly termed the “light touch [finger twinkling hand gesture]” of Tana French for weaving in the collapse in housing equity and ghost estates etc into the genre framework of Broken Harbor, which is cop but not northern. The detective in it lives in the apartments in the IFCS, which I thought was a good cheap “significant” detail.


WorldbyStorm - May 16, 2017

A bit of both, re hard boiled or police procedurals!


10. James - May 16, 2017

Also, one of the best bits of the Duffy books is this terrifying reveal that I mentioned
In the previous convo about this where this Special Branch agent lays out –
in the early 80s – how the Brisish state intends to manage and deescalte the Troubles, which is pretty much what happened, and I wonder how plausable those of you who’ve both read
it and observed events thought that could be. Revelations about stakeknife and the overall intelligence penetration do seem to lend credence to an interpretation where the Bristish recognized the limits of their agency, but worked within that masterfully, a la The Serenity Prayer.


WorldbyStorm - May 16, 2017

That point re the deescalation is audacious. A bit deterministic, can’t believe that the British state could work out all the angles in advance. But still audacious as it is put in the book.


11. James - May 17, 2017

Does it seem plausible that a person like the character in the book would express the British State’s gameplan as of the early 80’s? I guess it would be easy to write a novel after the fact and try to imbue it with profound historic persecutive by imputing that level of successful premeditation to the deep state.


James - May 17, 2017

*express the British State’s gameplan that way


WorldbyStorm - May 18, 2017

Yeah, completely implausible that someone would articulate it, though at that point in time it would be like fantastic. The oddthing us while I’m dubious the deep state had that plan in a way it was the most logical one for it to follow in terms of conflict resolution etc. I wpuldng be hugely surprised if for some in the 80s that seemed like a viable course. Though its not difficult to see others pushing back sharply against it too from within the state.


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