There has been an explosion in crime writing from Northern Ireland over the past decade or so. An element of this certainly has been as part of the wider growth of Irish crime writing, but in Northern Ireland there is also the specific role the peace process has played in informing the fiction that is being produced here. I think the appeal of crime fiction rests in the fact that it imposes a degree of order and justice in a world where there is precious little of either at times. Crime allows us to vicariously experience fear safe in the knowledge that right of some sort will prevail in the end. I think the catharsis that it allows, and that imposition of order on disorder, is comforting in uncertain times.
I think it is also why Northern Irish crime fiction only really found its voice after the violence here subsided: there’s no need to vicariously experience fear when you are actually undergoing it. When I wrote Borderlands in 2003, I deliberately set out to write a novel unrelated to the Troubles. But, in the writing of it, I found the events of the previous thirty years remained a constant shadow, bleeding around the edges of every narrative. The same could be argued for many of the other crime writers here. In the absence of a Truth Commission in Northern Ireland, fiction is the closest we will come to an understanding of the past even as we chart our way forward. And crime fiction, more than any other genre, works in that dual movement—a crime novel starts at the end of the victim’s story and, while the narrative has continual forward momentum, the detectives are generally working backwards from the moment of the crime to trace the initial acts and motives that lead to it.
There are so many fine Northern Irish writers I could include on this list—John McAllister, Garbhan Downey, Sam Miller, Des Doherty, Simon Maltman to name a few—but this (in no particular order) is my Top Ten of Northern Irish crime writing.
The Cold, Cold Ground – Adrian McKinty
McKinty’s work needs no introduction, but there is no doubt that, with the Sean Duffy series, he has really reached new heights. Throwing his main character into the heart of our violent history, McKinty has grasped with both hands the role of truth commissioner, dismantling the events of the past and imposing some form of rough justice on those who hitherto escaped it in any form. He deservedly won an Edgar this year for one of the later Duffy novels, Rain Dogs, but you should start here.
The Twelve – Stuart Neville
Again, a writer who needs no introduction, Neville’s debut novel blew everyone’s socks off when it came out. Fearless in its portrayal of the effects of the past, unflinching in examining the consequences of violence on violent men, and a cracking thriller to boot, it’s the perfect place to begin with a writer who has gone from strength to strength with each new book.
Divorcing Jack – Colin Bateman
While Northern Ireland may not have had an appetite for local crime fiction during the Troubles, there was one writer who bucked that trend by finding a way through it, using comedy to analyze the realities of the political situation here at the time. While Bateman has focused on screenwriting more recently, his talent and dark wit are plain for all to see in this first novel in the Dan Starkey series.
The Lost – Claire McGowan
In a male-dominated field of Northern Irish crime fiction, Claire McGowan was a welcome new voice, and her character Paula Maguire, a forensic psychologist introduced here in 2013’s The Lost, works along the border areas. McGowan is particularly adept at dialogue, and Maguire herself, as she develops across the series, is a fascinating figure.
Disappeared – Anthony Quinn
Another book based around the border regions where Anthony Quinn himself grew up, the Inspector Daly series offers a dark, occasionally brutal depiction of the realities of policing a lawless region. Daly is an intelligent, thoughtful investigator while Quinn’s lyrical prose style is just beautiful. Again, best to start with book one and savor the whole series.
The Defence – Steve Cavanagh
Cavanagh, a lawyer himself, brought something different to the Northern Irish crime fiction table with his Eddie Flynn novels, legal thrillers based in New York. The Defence is fast-paced and compulsively readable while Flynn is a likable, quick-thinking hero. The books may not be set in Northern Ireland, but Cavanagh’s concern with the law and justice and the frequent distance between the two is very much born of a lifetime living here.
The Bones of It – Kelly Creighton
While Creighton may not have set out to write a crime novel, there’s no denying that The Bones of It is very much informed by crime and the effects of crime through generations. A first-person narrative told by Scott McAuley, the novel deals with father/son issues and the consequences of violence and hatred, not just on the generation that lived through the Troubles, but on the generation that followed after. Beautifully written, The Bones of It offers a chilling evocation of a damaged mind.
The Point – Gerard Brennan
Brennan started a blog, Crime Scene NI, some years back that covered the growth of new crime writing coming from the North and became a hub of sorts for the writers from here. But Brennan is also a brilliant crime writer in his own right. Start with his novella The Point. Fast-paced and extremely witty, it showcases Brennan’s wonderfully dark sense of humor and his intuitive understanding of noir fiction.
The Dust of Death – Paul Charles
Best known for the London-based Inspector Kennedy novels, Paul Charles moved to the southern side of the border for several books featuring his intuitive Garda Inspector Starrett. Featuring the same intricate plotting and underlying sense of humanity that one would expect from Charles, the books exploited the border region setting, focusing on the consequences of discord within families and communities and the personal cost of crime.
The Anglo-Irish Murders – Ruth Dudley Edwards
Dudley-Edwards’s satires have hit many targets from modern art to the world of academics, but here she turns her acerbic wit on local politics to fine effect. With a complete disregard for political correctness and a sharp eye for irony, she draws attention to the absurdities of politics and politicians in Northern Ireland.
I was born and grew up in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. After studying philosophy at Oxford University I emigrated to New York City where I lived in Harlem for seven years working in bars, bookstores, building sites and finally the basement stacks of the Columbia University Medical School Library in Washington Heights. In 2000 I moved to Denver, Colorado where I taught high school English and started writing fiction in earnest. My first full length novel Dead I Well May Be was shortlisted for the 2004 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award and was picked by Booklist as one of the 10 best crime novels of the year. In 2008 I moved to St. Kilda, Melbourne, Australia with my wife and kids and started writing full time.
I'm probably best known for my Sean Duffy books. The first Sean Duffy novel, The Cold Cold Ground, won the 2013 Spinetingler Award and was picked as one of the best crime novels of the year by The Times.
The second Sean Duffy novel, I Hear The Sirens In The Street, won the 2014 Barry Award for best paperback original crime novel.
In The Morning I'll Be Gone (Sean Duffy #3) won the 2014 Ned Kelly Award for best novel and was picked as one of the top 10 crime novels of 2014 by the American Library Association, The Daily Mail & The Toronto Star.
Gun Street Girl (Duffy #4) was shortlisted for the 2016 Edgar Award, the 2015 Ned Kelly Award, The 2016 Anthony Award and was picked as one of the best books of 2015 by The Boston Globe and by The Irish Times.
Sean Duffy #5, Rain Dogs, was a Boston Globe best novel of 2016 and anIrish Timesbest crime novel of the year; it won the 2017 Edgar Award in best paperback original category.
"If Raymond Chandler had grown up in Northern Ireland he would have written The Cold Cold Ground."
"Hardboiled charm, evocative dialogue, an acute sense of place and a sardonic sense of humour make McKinty one of our greatest crime fiction writers."
"A literary thriller that is as concerned with exploring the poisonously claustrophobic demi-monde of Northern Ireland during the Troubles, and the self-sabotaging contradictions of its place and time, as it is with providing the genre’s conventional thrills and spills. The result is a masterpiece of Troubles crime fiction: had David Peace, Eoin McNamee and Brian Moore sat down to brew up the great Troubles novel, they would have been very pleased indeed to have written The Cold Cold Ground."
---The Irish Times
"McKinty is a gifted man with poetry coursing through his veins and thrilling writing dripping from his fingertips."
---The Sunday Independent
"Adrian McKinty is fast gaining a reputation as the finest of the new generation of Irish crime writers, and it's easy to see why on the evidence of The Cold Cold Ground."
---The Glasgow Herald
"McKinty is a storyteller with the kind of style and panache that blur the line between genre and mainstream."
"McKinty's literate expertly crafted crime novel confirms his place as one of his generation's leading talents."
"McKinty crackles with raw talent. His dialogue is superb, his characters rich and his plotting tight and seemless. He writes with a wonderful and wonderfully humorous flair for language raising his work above most crime genre offerings and bumping it right up against literature."
---The San Francisco Chronicle
"The first of McKinty's Forsythe novels, "Dead I Well May Be," was intense, focused and entirely brilliant. This one is looser-limbed, funnier...so, I imagine, is the middle book, "The Dead Yard," which I haven't read but which Publishers Weekly included on its list of the 12 best novels of 2006, along with works by Peter Abrahams, Richard Ford, Cormac McCarthy and George Pelecanos."
---The Washington Post
"McKinty, who grew up in Northern Ireland, has an ear for language and a taste for violence, and he serves up a terrifically gory, swiftly paced thriller."
---The Miami Herald
"There's nothing like an Irish tough guy. And we're not talking about Gentleman Gerry Cooney here. No, we mean the new breed of bare-knuckle Irish writers like Adrian McKinty, Ken Bruen and John Connolly who are bringing fresh life to the crime fiction genre."
---The Philadelphia Inquirer
"McKinty's writing is dark and witty with gritty realism, spot on dialogue, and fascinating characters."
---The Chicago Sun-Times
"If you like your noir staples such as beautiful women, betrayal, murder, mixed with a heavy dose of blood, crunched bones, body parts flying around served up with some throwaway humour, you need look no further, McKinty delivers all of this with the added bonus that the writing is pitch perfect."
---The Barcelona Review
"I really enjoyed combination of toughness and a striking literary style."
"This is a terrific read. McKinty gives us a strong non stop story with attractive characters and fine writing."
---The Morning Star
"[McKinty] draws us close and relates a fantastic tale of murder and revenge in low, wry tones, as if from the next barstool...he drops out of conversational mode to throw in a few breathtaking fever-dream sequences for flavor. And then he springs an ending so right and satisfying it leaves us numb with delight and ready to pop for another round. Start the cliche machine: This is a profoundly satisfying book from a major new talent and one of the best crime fiction debuts of the year."
"The story is soaked in the holy trinity of the noir thriller: betrayal, money and murder, but seen through with a panache and political awareness that give McKinty a keen edge over his rivals."
---The Big Issue
"A darkly humorous cross between a hard-boiled mystery and a Beat novel."
---The St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"A roller coaster of highs and lows, light humour and dark deeds, the powerful undercurrent of McKinty's talent will swiftly drag you away. Let's hope the author does not slow down anytime soon."
---The Irish Examiner
"A virtual carnival of slaughter."
---The Wall Street Journal
"McKinty has once again harnassed the power of poetry, violence, lust and revenge to forge another terrific novel."
---The Irish Post
"A pacey, violent caper in which McKinty vividly portrays [Belfast's] sleazy, still-menacing underbelly."
---The Sunday Times
"McKinty writes with the soul of a poet; his prose dances off the pages with Old World grace and haunting intensity. It's crime fiction on the level of Michael Connolly with the conviction of James Hall."
---The Jackson Clarion-Ledger
"The Bloomsday Dead is the explosive final installment in a trilogy of kinetic thrillers."
---The New York Times
"McKinty's Dead Trilogy has been praised by critics, who call it "intense," "masterful" and "loaded with action." If your reading pleasure leans toward thrillers offering suspense, close calls, wry wit, sharp dialogue, local color and sudden mayhem, you wont do better."
---The Sacramento Bee
"Le Fleuve caché d'Adrian McKinty impressionne par la richesse et la diversité de son ton et de son écriture, passant avec aisance du lyrisme ample de la nostalgie de l'amour perdu au rythme saccadé du narrateur sous l'emprise de l'héroïne. Ce livre rare et maîtrisé est une réussite bien digne de la Série noire."
"McKinty - that guy is a friggin genius."
"McKinty is a cross between Mickey Spillane and Damon Runyan, the toughest, the best."
"Adrian McKinty is one of the great new crime writers emerging from Ireland."