Police at the Station
And They Don't Look Friendly
(Seventh Street Books)
Not long ago, we did a review of McKinty's Rain Dogs. We commented
Adrian McKinty's style is designed to drive you mad in its first 100 pages or so by the glomming onto an oddity in a case that could be a suicide or a murder . . . and not letting that clue go. He comes back to it again and again, like a dog on a bone, rattling back and forth with it until you think this Sean Duffy is more or less daffy and we want to call him up and tell him to stop it.
Well, maybe McKinty's style has changed, but we can't say at this moment whether it's for the better or worse.
Sean Duffy, a beleaguered, dope-smoking, early morning gimlet cocktail-in-the-office detective is widely regarded as a loser by most of his fellow officers, certainly by the higher-ups. For instance he is waylaid by some thugs in the house of a young lady (you understand, he only went there to protect her from her violent boyfriend), and soon enough finds himself in a "vast Holocene forest," in handcuffs, trailed by two men and a woman. All with guns at the ready.
He is being taken down to a peaceful area, there in the shadows, with "the ferns, and the yew roots" where they will, presumably, put him out of his misery. The march to his demise is slow, allowing this philosophical cop to brood on how little he is appreciated,
The future belongs to the men behind me with the guns. They're welcome to it. Over these last fifteen years I've done my best to fight entropy and carve out a little local order in a sea of chaos. I have failed. And now I am going to pay the price of that failure.
A martyr's chant, no? One who has obviously never run across the newest mot out of the Zen Master Bumpersticker Club:Civilization is Entropy in Drag"Uncuff him and give him the spade," says one of the gunmen. Another urges him on kindly, "I'll shoot you in the bollocks if you say one more word. I'll make you dig with no nuts. Now, shut up and get to work."
Someone pushes me and I go down.
Spread-eagled on my back in the black peat.
"Let's just top him now," a voice says from a thousand miles away.
"Yeah, all right."
Above me treetops, crows, sky.
And the yellow dark, the red dark, and the deep blue dark.
So that's it, the end of Sean Duffy, right here on page 19? Sure. And it won't be until we get midway through Police at the Station that we (and Duffy) manage to wiggle out of this one.
And, we ask ourselves, how is McKinty able to pull it off, make it believable, make us want to stay with the book until the bitter end?
While he is on the edge of being offed, Duffy ruffles everyone's feathers, including, occasionally, the readers, all the while coming up with absurdly off-the-wall bits of knowledge: a besotted detective, immersed in murder, dope, untidy ladies, miserable weather, cops - - - the ones above him sordid, ready for blackmail or murder, all eager to be rid of him.
We get to check one out, named "Strong" (of course) and there's Duffy, sneaking out from under his charming live-in love Beth, who often finds him intolerable, leaving her and their daughter behind while he sneaks out to solve yet another case.
When he isn't noodling about the Japanese zen poet master Basho, he's quoting Miss Marple (Agatha Christie's "spinster detective"), and Laurel & Hardy, and poet John Berryman (slightly suicidal like Duffy) - - - whose poem to Amy Vladeck goes,
Life, friends, is boring.
We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) 'Ever to confess you're bored
means you have no
Inner Resources. I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavily bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as achilles,
who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.
Joyce, of course, must turn up - - - this is Ireland after all - - - and that chilly end of "Dubliners,"
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
Is this Joyce's Ireland we've fallen into? Yes, it's Ireland in the time of The Troubles. Is there any time when Ireland is not in trouble? Thirty years of guerrilla warfare with the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA); loyalist paramilitaries such as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA); British state security forces - - - the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).
Are all these designed to confuse those of us from the other parts of the world . . . sectarian problems running deep, a continuing civil war that seems to have been ignited back in in 1609, "planters," stealing land from the indigenous, native Irish, who have yet to forgive the British from being so brutish if not British.
§ § §
All this stuff turns up in Police at the Station, but if you don't get it, don't worry because there is so much more to divert you, including some of Sean's terrible jokes, designed I guess to offend the Sightless Liberation Front:
"Why don't blind people skydive?"
"Because it scares the crap out of their dogs."
"No smiles at all. I was going to have to go slapstick with this lot and it was too early in the morning for Buster bloody Keaton." There was another bad joke scattered somewhere in this collection of asides, puns, and anagrams: I couldn't find it in my notes, hell, I might have made it up (McKinty does that to you, does it too) but it was something along the line of "a blind guy, a transvestite and a kangaroo go into a bar, and the bartender says, "What's this? A joke?"
(I much prefer my own favorite, "See, there's this guy with a frog sticking out of his forehead and he goes into a bar and the bartender says, "Jesus Christ, where did that come from," and the frog says, "Hell, I don't know, it just started out as a bump on my ass.")
This is just that sort of book. When Duffy finally catches up with Strong, in the middle of that back and forth demanded in every detective novel when they finally catch up with the bad guy, and he or she starts to spill the beans, is it just confession time, there with the father bent forward, listening?
No, yet because this is McKinty, it's got to be from the Mother Church, so what the hell do they do but end up quoting poetry at each other. Strong: "You know. You're a Catholic. You know. It's all a sham. What's that line, 'On the dunes and headline sinks the fire . . . ' You know the rest. Smart boy like you."
Duffy: What eejit can refuse quoting memorized poetry:
"On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget - - - lest we forget!"
Rudyard Kipling's "Recessional,"telling us that we may be top banana right now, but the day of reckoning will come, as it is now for Strong, for all of us, "and the earth dies, and then all the suns go out and all the civilizations die, and eventually entropy maximizes, the, the second law of thermodynamics . . . "
And I am thinking that I don't recall Philip Marlowe reciting Kipling, certainly not Lord Kelvin.
§ § §
McKintry is worth it. Not only does he throw culture at you, you also get a bloke who can explain that the "best sex in the world" can happen when "three men in balaclavas fire Kalashnikovs at you and your girlfriend and miss" and, mother and father in the front room with the baby, and
"Sean, no, we can't; your car's running. I - - - "
We ran up to the bedroom.
Ten minutes was enough.
And finally, when people are not being blown up or shot at or forced to duck into the neighbor's yard to keep from getting killed, he'll make himself "a pint glass of vodka gimlet, easy on the ice, lime and soda, heavy on the vodka," and, for music, "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis."
Oh stop it Duffy. We do have our limits, don't we?
Schubert, yes. Ella Fitzgerald: OK.
Arvo Pärt, fine.
But that wheeze-meister Ralph Vaughan Williams? And Luigi Boccherini?
When it comes to cars, and gimlets, and love - - - Duffy is tops. But culture?
Leave it to the beavers . . .