The Story of My Book: Adrian McKinty on The Cold Cold Ground

Adrian_McKinty Belfast in 1981 – hunger strikes, riots, suicide and murder. Crime novelist Adrian McKinty’s latest release is a brutal, gripping tale of a Catholic policeman battling to solve a violent mystery at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Here, he guest blogs for us about the story behind The Cold Cold Ground, and what drove him to revisit the times of his childhood.

This is my seventh crime novel but the first book I’ve written that addresses the extraordinary world that I grew up in. I’ve written books about Havana and New York but none about Belfast during the seventies and eighties when I was a kid. Since the Northern Ireland peace process in the early 2000’s no one has really wanted to talk about what happened during the darkest days of the Troubles. I remember a few years ago when I was pitching ideas to a BBC producer and I told him about the possibility of doing a Northern Irish cop show during the 80s. He was appalled. ‘No, no, no that was the past, we all want to move on from that now.’ The Troubles had become that thing that no one in the UK or Ireland wants to talk about.

About a year ago I realised that the thing that no one wants to talk about is probably the thing that needs to be talked about most (and certainly if you’re a writer who takes his job seriously). So I began researching a police procedural to be set in Belfast in the flashpoint year of 1981. The Cold Cold Ground takes place during the Maze Prison Hunger Strikes when rioting, bombings, protection racket punishments, and violent mass murder were all daily occurrences. Much of the action occurs on Coronation Road, the street where I was born and raised, in the midst of a Protestant housing estate north of Belfast.

The story is about a young Catholic copper, Sean Duffy, who is attempting to solve what looks like Northern Ireland’s first case of a serial killer. Lone wolf serial killers were non-existent around this time because psychopaths could always just join their local paramilitary faction and get their kicks ‘killing for a cause’. As Duffy investigates the murder of a young gay man he realises that there is more to the case than meets the eye and he begins to undercover a seamy underworld of crosses, double crosses and moral ambiguity.

This is the first ever book to focus on the parlous situation of a Catholic police detective in the overwhelmingly Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary. Sean’s loyalties are constantly called into question and he has to tread carefully through a quincunx of alliances and fracture lines.