IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE completes what is surely one of crime fiction’s best trilogies*. Collectively the set has used an assortment of routine crimes and their investigation as an avenue into the crazy, mixed-up world that was Northern Ireland’s Troubles; offering the kind of insider perspective on everyday life that non-fiction can never quite manage. And while the first two books were both outstanding, IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE is…perfect.
As the book opens series hero, Sean Duffy, has been expelled from the police, ostensibly for running someone over with his police vehicle but really because of the many feathers he has ruffled and lines he has crossed in the events depicted in earlier instalments. Just as he is contemplating a move to Spain, where his police pension might stretch a little further and the weather will definitely be sunnier, he gets an offer he can’t refuse. His old school mate and IRA leader Dermot McCann is one of the prisoners who escaped from the Maze prison on one horrendous night and Special Branch wonder if Duffy’s personal connection might enable him to uncover information about McCann’s whereabouts and current plans.
I think my favourite of the many lovable things about this novel is its intricately clever plot that includes a romping, old-fashioned locked-room mystery. I’ll admit to being wary at the first sign of this classic trope because many modern attempts go horribly awry through thinking this an easy plot element to achieve. But McKinty has not succumbed to the lure of the paranormal nor unfairly hidden some snippet of information from the reader and the fact his characters are aware of the infamy of the type of puzzle they’re trying to solve somehow makes it seem all the more legitimate. Being a huge fan of the locked-room story I’d have been happy enough with this alone, but the plot holds much more including an ending that inserts Duffy very credibly into one of the period’s most dramatic real events. Said ending is wickedly unforgettable but not over-the-top and this is such a rare thing in crime novels these days it must be applauded.
Escaped violent prisoners, girls dead too young, injustice in myriad forms and the ever-present worry there might be a bomb under one’s car shouldn’t make ripe ground for laughter but there is a wry humour pervading this novel; lifting the depressing sensibility it might (surely would?) otherwise have. But despite this, or perhaps because of it, the reader is rarely in any doubt that serious business is at hand. This perfect balance between seriousness and humour is evidenced by the novel’s opening sentences
“The beeper began to whine at 4.27pm on Wednesday, 25 September 1983. It was repeating a shrill C sharp at four-second intervals which meant – for those of us who had bothered to read the manual – that it was a Class 1 emergency. This was a general alert being sent to every off-duty policeman, police reservist and soldier in Northern Ireland. There were only five Class 1 emergencies and three of them were a Soviet nuclear strike, a Soviet invasion and what the civil servants who’d written the manual had nonchalantly called ‘an extra-terrestrial trespass’.”
Possibly even more important than offering a ripper yarn with an undercurrent of humour is the undoubted insight the novel offers into this turbulent time and place. There are banalities and absurdities; terror and dullness; the personal and the political are irretrievably and dangerously intertwined; right and wrong are everywhere: jumbled, often indistinguishable. The problem with most of the non-fiction I’ve read on this topic is that it tries to make sense of it all whereas McKinty seems to have realised the futility of that and just depicted what was: a surreal and often nonsensical morass of humanity at its worst. And best.
I could go on some more but if I haven’t already convinced you to give this one a go then there’s no hope for you. From its Tom Waits’ borrowed title to the very last word of chapter 32 IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE is a treat. It offers everything I look for in a novel: lovably imperfect characters, an enveloping sense of its time and place, emotional highs and lows and some of the best laughs you’ll find between two covers. I recommend it to everyone: crime fan or not. And if you happen to be a lover of audio books do yourself a favour and grab the Gerard Doyle narration.
*there are rumours of a fourth Sean Duffy book in the works but, for now at least, this is a complete set.
Publisher: Print – Serpent’s Tail ; Audio – Blackstone Audio 
ISBN Print version: 9781846688201 ASIN Audio version: B00HWH90XM
Length: 326 pages / 9 hrs 51 minutes
Format: paperback / mp3
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.