Readers of Adrian McKinty's Sean Duffy series (of which this is book 5), might be excused for wondering if he's more than a little fascinated by locked room scenarios. The use of that scenario in 2014's IN THE MORNING I'LL BE GONE is referred back to directly in RAIN DOGS. There's a larger scale setting here with an entire castle, but the mystery relies heavily again on the concept of a victim and no way for a murderer to have gotten in or out of the scene of the crime. The coincidence of two locked room cases in one investigative career is almost more than Duffy can swallow, and initially, it seems unbelievable that Lily Bigelow's death could be anything other than suicide. Everyone, including Duffy, is almost ready to accept that solution, until something feels off and copper instincts cut in.
Set in Belfast in the 1980's, as is always the way with the Duffy books McKinty starts out with an absolute belter of an opening. Granted Muhammad Ali's visit in the form of a "peace tour" might be fictional, but everything about the visit and the character of Ali - right down to his face to face with a bunch of skinheads opposed to him on the grounds of the colour of his skin - works incredibly well. As does the idea that hardened, cynical, vaguely depressed Duffy might be just a little star struck. Which probably turns out to be one of the only personal highlights for him early in this book as his romantic life takes a downturn and his life of work, listening to records, illicit cannabis smoking and constant checking for car bombs seems to grind on with a hefty sense of pointlessness.
The strength of this series has always been the character of Duffy and the way that he lives his life and investigates his cases. As we know he's a Catholic cop in a Protestant dominated force, living in a Protestant dominated area, and his life can seem like a mild case of ongoing train just clinging to the rails. These novels always incorporate real-life events within the fiction, and as these aspects start to be revealed in RAIN DOGS it quickly becomes apparent that the "why" of Bigelow's death is considerably more important than the who or the how. Given that the series is set in the 1980's, and allowing for what world-wide is now known about organised paedophile rings, and high-profile offenders, some of the revelations in RAIN DOGS still have the capacity to surprise and horrify.
RAIN DOGS is another strong entrant in a series that hasn't hit a bung note. The reality of life in Belfast in that time is illustrated in the most sobering of manners yet again. The mystery elements are strongest when motivation is being sought, the gallows humour at it's finest when Duffy and his colleagues are under the most pressure. At the end of it all Duffy's solved the case, dealt with a most unexpected personal outcome, and lives to take up the struggle another day.