Friday, September 4, 2015

Review of Unholy Ground by John Brady (HarperCollins, 1989)

The late 1980s and Arthur Combs, a 73 year old Englishman is found dead at his home at the edge of the Dublin mountains.  Detective Sergeant Matt Minogue of the Dublin Murder Squad is assigned the case.  Minogue is a thoughtful copper and family man who quickly determines that this was no ordinary burglary turned violent.  On the other side of the Irish Sea two civil servants, one in the foreign office the other MI5 are equally perturbed by Combs’ death.  The elderly man was a low-level British agent with a troubled past.  With new Anglo-Irish talks about to begin, for differing reasons they want to know want to know what damage Combs might have done before he was killed.  And while one of them underestimates the Irish police, the other is aware that Minogue is a canny cop with a knack for unearthing the truth.  Then a second man is killed.

Unholy Ground is the second book in the Matt Minogue series set in Dublin.  Published in 1989 it is a book very much of its time, concerned the death of a British agent near to Dublin during The Troubles, but focusing on a cat and mouse game between the Irish police and British establishment and its connections to the violence in the North.  Brady’s narrative is divided into two main threads.  The first follows the investigation led by Detective Sergeant Matt Minogue.  The second details the Whitehall moves of Kenyon, a MI5 operative who is aware of how the agent’s death could blow-up politically.  The result is an engaging, understated read that, for me, was reminiscent of John Le Carre’s Smiley novels.  Unholy Ground is not a thriller with a capital T, but rather one that focuses on the everyday, mundane nature of policing and politics. Minogue and Kenyon are not action heroes, but two pawns in a tense game of chess in which false moves have real consequence.  The plot is engaging, the dialogue and sense of place nicely executed, and the characterisation excellent.  Overall, a very nice police procedural/spy crossover tale.

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