Not far into Hidden River and you start to have a bit of sense of deja vu – haven’t we read something like this before from Adrian McKinty? Well, yes, sort of. There are parallels with Dead I Well May Be, McKinty’s first book. Both books are about Northern Irishmen fleeing their troubles by going to the USA and ending up in more trouble, violent trouble. In the earlier book the protagonist lost his dole eligibility through benefit fraud, so goes off to New York to work for an Irish gangster. In Hidden River, Alex Norton has resigned from the RUC after a meteoric rise to drug squad detective, is addicted to heroin, and gratefully takes the opportunity provided by a grieving family to go off an investigate the death of a school days girlfriend in Denver, before Scotland Yard can involve him in a corruption inquiry, or the corrupt cops silence him.
Alex’s friend and former colleague, John Campbell, comes along with him, and they make a start on investigation the death of Victoria Patawasti, who had worked for an environment organisation and had apparently been killed in a robbery. Of course she wasn’t, there is something dodgy about the environment organisation – its founders are rich boys with ambitions, one of whom has a very beautiful wife. Alex and John tend to mess things up, there’s a body so they need to scarper, and – amazing luck – they find a great place to hide. Violence, and sex, follows them around. Alex makes some progress in his investigation, but screws up (in a number of ways), is nearly killed, escapes back to Ulster.
The hidden river is the Saraswati, that flows only in heaven but comes to the earth at the point where the Ganges and the Yamuna meet, and it is here that your sins can be bathed away, wiping them clean for seven generations backward. Alex ends up there, and it helps him realise a vital clue involving another hidden river, a river that has dried to a trickle and so reveals Victoria’s killer. So justice of a sort is done, finally.
As in his first book, McKinty’s prose is sharp, well-paced, and compelling. But I think I like Dead I Well May Be better because it was bleaker, more noir, and its Michael Forsyth was somehow more real than Alex Norton. I’m looking forward to reading The Dead Yard, which picks up on his travails.
Hidden River, published by Serpent’s Tail, 2006. ISBN: 1 85242 472 9; ISBN 13: 978 1 85242 472 5
Other books by Adrian McKinty – Dead I Well May Be, The Dead Yard, Bloomsday Dead