Rain Dogs is rich. History, character, puzzle, and plot are all up to snuff in a layered story with a series of juicy, false-summit endings that kept me nicely off-balance right down to the last wee drop.
Rain Dogs is a locked-room mystery. Well, sort of. The colorful crime scene is the real-life, 12th-Century Carrickfergus Castle. Based on the hour when the murder victim is found and the number of others who had access to the castle, the suspect list is short. That is, extremely so. The suspect list is so short, in fact, this may be a suicide. But Lily Bigelow was a reporter for a major newspaper. And, well, there are leads to follow. What was she working on? Where are her notes?
The story starts low-key, nearly ho-hum. No rush. There’s a robbery case first before we get to the castle and some character-building with Duffy. He likes good whiskey. Bowmore, perhaps. His career with Royal Ulster Constabulary is stalled. There are girlfriend woes. Duffy is constantly checking for bombs under his car, given that this is 1987 and The Troubles are in full swing. He’s perfectly happy to sit on the sofa and listen “as Ella Fitzgerald decanted some of that old-time religion.”
Duffy broadens the case out—way out. Soon we’re dealing with international intrigue (and realize how smoothly McKinty has introduced these ideas and themes in the opening chapters) and we follow Duffy’s explorations to the Kincaid Young Offenders Institution and a pedophile ring and, well, politics and there’s a colorful trip to the far reaches of Finland.
Duffy is especially cynical about the likelihood that the Carrickfergus Castle is a locked-room scenario because this would be his second such case and the odds of that, well, are slim. McKinty winks at us when he has Duffy recognize he’s in good company; there are ample references to such fellow fictional characters as Inspector Maigret, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. One cop is named Ed McBain. McKinty seems to be saying, there is nothing new here but when the plot crackles and your lead guy is solid, I’ve got you hooked. (Rain Dogs is a bit meta—one reason it may be doing well with the mystery crowd.)
McKinty, in fact, makes it look easy. There are terrific minor characters, a few legitimate surprises, and the expected dose of Irish liquids—beer and whiskey flow.
The writing is brisk, clipped, and punches hard. McKinty’s prose is reductionist—and loads of fun.
“Morning. A cat climbing onto my head and meowing. Shower, shave, skip breakfast, leave some tuna for the cat, check under the BMW for bombs. No bombs.
No bombs, but was that somebody watching the house from the bend at the bottom of the street? Guy in a parka?
No. My imagination. Why would anybody want to watch me? He was a loiterer. Keep my eye open, though.
Inside the Beemer. Culture Club on Radio 1. Vivaldi on Radio 3. Dolly Parton on Downtown Radio. Downtown it is.a
“Up to the incident room….”
On many levels, Rain Dogs is a blast to read.