Hidden River, by Adrian McKinty

I ended up reading two Adrian McKinty books this week. This is an older one. I also read his lastest, Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly, which will get a review in a little while.

A friend introduced me to Adrian McKinty late last year, particularly his detective hero Sean Duffy. Hidden River is the first of McKinty’s books I’ve read without Duffy and takes quite a few interesting directions. The principal character in the book is Alexander Lawson, a very young ex-detective who is addicted (though he doesn’t see it himself) to heroin. Lawson was a brilliant and rising star in the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) of North Ireland.

Lawson’s first love Victoria Patawasti has been murdered by an intruder after immigrating to Denver, Colorado. The police in Denver believe they have arrested the suspect but Victoria’s family has received a letter saying that the real murderer is still at large. They pay Lawson to travel to the US to follow a lead that local law enforcement is trying to get them to ignore. Lawson also has extra motivation to exit North Ireland after a run in with a former English paratrooper who is now investigating corruption in the RUC and believes Lawson knows something about it. (As context for those not intimate with all the problems within North Ireland the past several hundred years, English paratroopers were held responsible for Bloody Sunday in 1972 in which over a dozen unarmed protesters were shot dead.)

In the US Lawson faces a whole new world of challenges, not the least of these scoring heroin (he thought it best not to smuggle it in) and not having any official standing to investigate. He begins to suspect a rising politician that was Victoria’s employer at the time of her death.

The book was published in 2005 and the actions in it  take place in 1996. Victoria’s employer is a Republican. Bob Dole is running for president and the Jean Benet Ramsey murder case is a short time in the future. There is a lot of realistic local color from Colorado with well-described locations. The true killer is telegraphed fairly early and Lawson’s only excuse for not seeing it earlier is his addiction. It nearly seems like the killers will get away free after a terrific shootout scene but justice is complete near the end. Then, in a very surprising ending, Lawson ends up travelling to India and staying with Victoria’s grandparents and going through a really touching spiritual journey of his own.

This was McKinty’s  third published book in the US. The writing style is a bit different. At moments when the action tenses up McKinty’s writing changes. Sentences shorten. One. Or two. Perhaps three word sentences. Or syllables. It works in a way but it was a bad habit and one he blessedly gave up in later books.

There is no shortage of violence in McKinty. In that way he may be as much a victim of North Ireland as his characters. There are very nasty people in his books and they do very ugly things to each other. Not everyone will have the stomach for it but for those who can take it he’s a writer to hang with.