Adrian McKinty is the real deal. McKinty blurs the line between genre writing and literary fiction with his thriller mystery series about The Troubles in Northern Ireland. I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET is the second book in that series, and Ian Rankin, author of the Inspector Rebus novels, said, “I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET blew my bloody doors off!”
Praise such as “McKinty is a big new talent” (THE DAILY TELEGRAPH) and “McKinty’s literate expertly crafted crime novel confirms his place as one of his generation’s leading talents” (PUBLISHERS WEEKLY) make it clear that readers are in for a treat when they select a McKinty novel. The first book in The Troubles series, THE COLD, COLD GROUND was expertly done. Sean Duffy (a “peeler,” or policeman, in the slang McKinty uses with such familiarity) has once again intrigued us in the second novel, with the convoluted plot of I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET, the first book’s follow-up.
I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET was published by Prometheus Books in May of 2013. Sean Duffy, crime-fighting policeman, finds a torso in a suitcase. The torso turns out to be all that’s left of an American tourist who once served in the U.S. military. In time, Duffy turns up at the doorstep of a beautiful, flame-haired, twenty-something widow, whose husband died at the hands of an IRA assassination team just a few months prior. Duffy is bound and determined to pursue the case, no matter what. Set against the backdrop of Northern Ireland’s most tumultuous of times, readers are taken back to the eighties, when John DeLorean was going to bring Northern Ireland’s economy back by establishing his futuristic auto company in that troubled land.
Adrian was born three miles north of Belfast in 1968 in Carrickfergus, the setting for this second novel in the series. Educated at Oxford (Philosophy degree), he emigrated to Harlem where he worked at the Columbia Medical School as a librarian, taught English in Denver, and then relocated his family to Australia and St. Kilda’s.
When I caught up with Adrian, he was just setting off with his family to see the penguins for four days; that gave me the chance to read his two remarkable books in The Troubles series. I shall definitely read all his other works, although McKinty, himself, suggested the order for me, based on those he felt had achieved what he set out to do. McKinty is the author of seven crime novels, including DEAD I WELL MAY BE, which was short listed for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award, FIFTY GRAND, the 2010 Spinetingler Award winner, and FALLING GLASS. THE GLASGOW HERALD called McKinty “the best of the new generation of Irish crime novelists.”
Here are Adrian McKinty’s answers to a bakers’ dozen of questions. [Check out his excellent blog, “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life,” where he holds forth on everything from baseball to why TOY STORY is “The Most Terrifying Film I’ve Ever Seen.”]
At one point, you write about Northern Ireland and, specifically, Carrickfergus, where you were born in 1968 and where I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET is set: “Anybody with any brains was getting out. The destination wasn’t important. England. Scotland. Canada. America. Australia—the great thing was to go.” You emigrated from Carrickfergus to Harlem to Denver and, now, to St. Kilda’s, Melbourne, Australia. What motivated you to initially select Harlem, where you worked in the stacks of Columbia University’s Medical School Library in Washington Heights and then move to Denver and now to St. Kilda’s, Melbourne, Australia? In other words, why those places?
Don’t blame me; blame the missus. I followed my then-girlfriend to New York, where she was in graduate school. I was an illegal for two years, working in bars and construction sites (and having to leave every 90 days—usually the bus to Montreal and back)—but then we got married and I got a job at the Columbia Medical School. In 2000, Leah got offered a job at Denver University and in 2008 at Melbourne University.
What are your thoughts about Northern Ireland today, as opposed to the period in which the novel is set, the eighties, when John DeLorean was (supposedly) going to manufacture DeLorean cars there?
I think, on the surface, things in Northern Ireland have greatly improved. No more war. No more overt sectarian violence—but I think Northern Ireland is heading towards a demographic time bomb. Some time in the mid 2020’s the province will have a Catholic majority and then a united Ireland will be inevitable. I don’t see what could then stop a Bosnian style civil war (most of the one million Protestants in Northern Ireland will not be happy with a unitary situation). It’s a pessimistic viewpoint but I think, alas, it will prove to be the correct one.
Your writing contains a great deal of humor. When the corpse of a middle-aged American is found, cut off at the knees, head missing, at the beginning of I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET, your Inspector Sean Duffy says, “We can probably rule out suicide.” In the first Troubles novel, THE COLD, COLD GROUND, the presence of an amputated hand in a car accident causes a character to say, “This is no ordinary car accident.” Do you consciously try to incorporate ironic humor into your work(s), or is it simply the way the characters speak?
That’s just the way everyone talked back then (and now). Black humor is the mode of discourse of a people who use it as a coping mechanism. In Belfast, people are dead-pan funny, something that’s catastrophically missing from all those dreary Hollywood films about the Troubles.
You have written three books entitled the Troubles Trilogy. What is your opinion regarding the recent revelation of tapes of IRA officials, tapes which are currently in the possession of Boston College. Some indications are that the tapes, currently in Boston College’s Library, might be turned over to the authorities, despite the fact that those interviewed were promised this would not occur (many of those interviewed are now deceased). What do you think should be done with these tapes? Should the college turn over the incriminating tapes? Should it stonewall? Does it have the ability or the authority to say no to the government to protect the tapes? Should the author have written his book, based on the tapes, at all, therefore potentially incriminating some IRA henchmen and setting off investigations into those who went missing?
I followed that entire thing with baited breath. It’s an utterly fascinating story with complex legal and moral implications. Northern Ireland’s problem is that it never had a South Africa style Truth and Reconciliation Commission, so there are all these open wounds and sores that have never been healed or even been fully investigated. Ulster’s bogs are littered with bodies of the “disappeared.” I can see both sides. Reveal the information and give someone closure. Don’t reveal and protect the source and encourage others to come forward with the truth…There’s no easy answer, I’m afraid.
You use wonderful, fresh metaphors and similes (“…weary resignation overcame his weathered face like melted lard over a cast-iron skillet.”) THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE proclaimed, “McKinty crackles with raw talent.” What have you found to be the most successful method in garnering the recognition you deserve? Can you single out your most successful promotional methods for other authors?
I’m not the person to talk to about recognition. My books haven’t really broken through anywhere. Barely in the UK, but certainly not in America. Americans seem to prefer Irish novels that are shot through with the faded sepia tones of the 1950’s replete with colorful John Ford stereotypes. Look, I knew Frank McCourt a little bit, and he said some very nice things about my writing, but I wish the American public would ditch that whole view of Ireland and embrace the complexity of what the island is today (and was in the 1980’s, the era I write about.)
You studied philosophy and you studied law. Did you ever practice law? Did you ever formally study or teach writing?
I clerked for a couple of summers in a law firm, but never took the bar or formally practiced. I never studied writing, but I did teach English for many years in Denver and part of that was trying to get the kids to improve their own compositional skills.
How long, on average, does it take you to complete a novel the length of I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET?
It’s about a year a book. Sometimes less, sometimes more. Sometimes you’re lucky and it just flows: I wrote the first chapter of the sequel to SIRENS (IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE), which is at the end of SIRENS as a kind of teaser in the British edition, in about fifteen minutes.
Your family consists of….? (Wife? Children? Ages? Pets?)
Wife and two daughters (aged 10 and 7). We’re getting a cat in the next few weeks.
Frequently, you use linguistic passages—Latin, French—(‘I want to talk to le grand fromage.’ P. 243) What languages did you study, where did you study them, and for how many years?
I studied French, German and Latin in school. In New York I picked up a bit of Spanish. We lived in Jerusalem for a year (1999-2000), where I picked up a little Hebrew and Arabic, and I’ve been studying Irish for the last 15 years or so. My wife studies Yiddish literature, so, almost by osmosis, a bit of that has slipped into my consciousness, too. Certainly the jokes have, anyway.
When you are writing a series, since they are all the rage now, what advice can you offer other writers about writing a novel that can stand alone while still filling new readers in on what has happened in previous books?
My advice is just write the book you want to write. All other concerns are secondary. Be true to yourself and write the story you want to tell, and please God don’t make it be about serial killers, child abduction, or set in Scandinavia.
You are very prolific. What is your writing schedule? How do you separate your writing from your personal life?
I have no schedule at all. I’d love to be one of those people who gets up at six and write 1,000 words before breakfast, but that’s not me at all. When I’m in the mood, I’ll close the door and write for four or five hours, but if the mood’s not quite right, I can go weeks, months, even, without ever going near the computer.
Do you have one specific place that you prefer to write and what is it? As an aside, how do you find time to write a blog with such substantial entries (in addition to the novels you are producing?) Do you do any social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), yourself, other than your blog?
No. I can write anywhere as long as the music’s not too loud or there are no interesting conversations going on in the background. The blog is what Freud calls “a displacement activity”—basically, an excuse not to write fiction. And, yup, I’m on Twitter, too. Another time suck displacement activity.
What writing groups do you belong to? Has your participation in these groups helped sell your books, and,. if so, how?
I’m not in any writing groups. The idea of a writing group sounds kind of creepy to me.
Adrian McKinty is the author of seven crime novels, including DEAD I WELL MAY BE (shortlisted for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award), FIFTY GRAND (the 2010 Spinetingler Award winner), and FALLING GLASS, and, most recently, THE COLD COLD GROUND. Born and raised in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, McKinty was called “the best of the new generation of Irish crime novelists” in the GLASGOW HERALD.
To learn more about Adrian, please visit his website.
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