Please welcome back Adrian McKinty in an all new interview with Dana King!
Adrian McKinty was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1968 and grew up in Victoria Council Estate, Carrickfergus, County Antrim. He studied law at the University of Warwick and politics and philosophy at Oxford. After graduating from Oxford University in 1993 McKinty moved to New York City and found work as a security guard, barman, bookstore clerk, rugby coach, door-to-door salesman, and librarian. In 2000 he relocated to Denver to become a high school English teacher. In 2008 he and his family moved to St. Kilda, Melbourne, Australia. He currently resides in Seattle, where his wife is doing post-graduate research.
Publishers Weekly has called him “one of his generation’s leading talents” and Patrick Anderson of the Washington Post has praised McKinty as a leading light in the new wave of Irish crime novelists. John O’Connor, reviewing McKinty’s Fifty Grand in The Guardian called him a “master of modern noir, up there with the likes of Dennis Lehane.”
His novels have received considerable recognition. His debut crime novel Dead I Well May Be was short-listed for the CWA Steel Dagger Award 2004. His debut young adult novel The Lighthouse Land was shortlisted for the 2008 Young Hoosier Award and the 2008 Beehive Award. The Dead Yard was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the Twelve Best Novels of 2006, and won the 2007 Audie Award for best thriller/suspense. The final book of his Dead Trilogy, The Bloomsday Dead was long-listed for the 2009 World Book Day Award. Fifty Grand won the 2010 Spinetingler Award for best novel and was longlisted for the 2011 Theakston Best British Crime Novel Award. Audible.com selected Falling Glass as the Best Mystery or Thriller of 2011 and CrimeFest shortlisted The Cold Cold Ground for the Last Laugh Award 2013.
McKinty has written articles and book reviews for The Washington Post, The Times of London, The Australian, The Melbourne Age and Harper’s Magazine.
The first book of his Troubles Trilogy, The Cold Cold Ground has recently become available in the United States after a glowing reception in Ireland and Great Britain, where the second in the series, I Hear the Sirens in the Street, is currently available. (For Kindle only at this time in the United States.) Arian McKinty took a break from working on the final volume of the Troubles trilogy to chat with new Mystery Reader’s Dana King.
New Mystery Reader: We’re likely speaking to a predominantly American audience, many of who may not be old enough to remember The Troubles, or may not be familiar with the term. It’s unfair to ask this about such a complicated subject, but give our readers a little background on what The Troubles were.
Adrian McKinty: In 1922 Ireland was divided into a largely Catholic state in the South, a largely Protestant state in the North, but the settlement was always arbitrary and seen, even at the time, as temporary. By the 1960s the Catholics in the North had risen to about one-third of the population and they were discriminated against by the majority in housing and in government jobs. A series of civil rights marches for better Catholic rights in the late 60s morphed into a full blown terrorist campaign by the IRA for a united Ireland by the 1970s. Basically from 1968-1998 the British were dealing with a major insurgency in Northern Ireland and at times it felt like a small scale civil war as Catholics and Protestants were butchered by one side or another in a series of depressing and predictable ethnic reprisals.
NMR: What made you want to set this series in Northern Ireland during The Troubles?
AM: Well I’d never written anything about the Troubles before and after repressing many memories of that terrible (but also fascinating) time I felt a year or two ago that the time might be right to write about my childhood through the prism of a crime fiction novel (the genre with which I was most familiar).
NMR: There’s a description of why the paramilitaries used mercury switches for car bombs that will stick with me forever. Describe how that came to be in the book.
AM: I used to get a lift to school every morning from a neighbour who was a Major in the British Army (a prime target for the IRA) and every morning he would check under his car for a mercury tilt switch bomb. Except when he didn’t. And on those mornings, when it was raining, or snowing, I would sit in the back seat of the car with my little brother experiencing a deep and terrifying existential crisis. Of course there never was a bomb…
NMR: The Cold Cold Ground is as moving a book as I can remember reading, thanks to how well you put the reader in a place where everyday things we don’t think about—going to work or the movies, for example—can never be taken for granted. Yet the book is never depressing, and is laugh out loud funny in spots. The banter among the cops is always entertaining and falls on the ear like, well, like men talking. Was this a conscious effort, or did the book just fall that way for you?
AM: One of the failures of movies about the Troubles (of which there have been very many) is how worthy and preachy and dull they all are. They utterly to fail to capture what Belfast was like in the 70s and 80s where black humour was an important coping mechanism for the general population. In Ulster sarcasm, irony and black humour have always been the modes of primary discourse so it’s bizarre to watch or read fiction set in that time period which lacks any of these mechanisms. Bizarre and unrealistic.
NMR: Sean Duffy is a Catholic cop working in Protestant Northern Ireland. If Protestant and Catholic paramilitaries can agree on anything, it’s they don’t like Catholic cops. The IRS sees him as a traitor; the Protestant groups as virtually an occupier, and would kill him just to have stories to tell at the pub. There’s some routine prejudice among his fellow cops, yet it’s clear those he works with most directly have his back. Are you saying the uniform trumps the sectarian issues, or is it more of a universal prejudice thing, where people find their hate breaks down when dealing with an individual?
AM: There were VERY few Catholic cops in the RUC in the early 80s. Only about 15%. The IRA tried to kill Catholic cops as collaborators and Catholic cops suffered prejudice in the police force because Protestants felt (wrongly) that their allegiance was suspect. Of course I had to make Duffy a Catholic detective because it would generate all these interesting fracture lines for me as a writer: insider/outsider, Catholic/Protestant, middle-class/working class etc. As time goes on Duffy becomes more accepted by his colleagues as he proves his ability. This of course is only natural as the collegiate nature of the job and shared dangers bring the men together.
NMR: It seems—to me, at least—your books are becoming more focused on Ireland the longer you live away from it. Have your travels given you some perspective you may have lacked earlier, is this a manifestation of homesickness, or have I missed the boat altogether?
AM: No, I think you’re right. What’s that TS Eliot line? “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of our journey will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” It took me a long time to write about Ireland during the Troubles. Four continents worth of travels, nine cities and twenty-five years but finally I felt confident or displaced or emotionally mature enough to delve into my memories of that time.
NMR: You have three Duffy books planned. (I figured that out all by myself, knowing how you dislike extended series. And that whole “Book One: The Troubles Trilogy” business on the cover.) Did you have all three books laid out in your head before you started (a la The Wire’s five seasons), or did you think three books was about as much as you wanted to do with Duffy and The Troubles?
AM: I knew the plot of book 2, but book 3 was always more of a mystery except for the last chapter which I wrote first. Can’t say too much about that, obviously.
NMR: What are your plans after the Duffy stories are complete?
AM: I think I have to take a year off from writing anything. I reckon it’s a mistake to rush into a new project too soon. It’s better to let some ideas bubble away in the background and then maybe try a few different ideas. (I’ve got dozens of Chapter Ones in a drawer that just went nowhere so I suspect there will be a few missteps along the way).
NMR: Adrian, thank you for your time and insights. I checked my notes before we started and was shocked to see it’s been four years since we first did this, which was hard to believe. It’s been a pleasure, and I’m looking forward to the remaining two books in trilogy.