my review of the new Michael Robotham novel in last Sunday's Weekend Australian:
West London in the present day. Two women have a chance encounter in a supermarket. They are about the same age, both pregnant, both due in early December.
Agatha works in the supermarket as a shelf stacker (the “lowest position in the place”), Meghan is a “mummy blogger” on the rise (a women’s magazine has picked her blog as one of the top five in the country).
Although they live in roughly the same part of the city, they come from different social classes and their lives are on radically different trajectories. Agatha subsists just above the poverty line in a grubby flat with few real friends and no real connection to her Jehovah’s Witness family in Leeds. The father of her baby, Hayden, is a nice but dim sailor with whom she had a one-night stand and who is back on HMS Sutherland, oblivious to her condition.
Meghan is comfortably upper middle class. Her husband, Jack, is an Irish TV sports reporter whom she met at the Beijing Olympic Games. Jack’s more famous than she is and is often recognised down the pub and handed phone numbers by young women who are”desperate to break into television”. We meet Agatha first and we see Meghan initially through her eyes. We distrust Agatha from the get-go. She’s not exactly a dishonest narrator but she watches Meghan with the gaze of a voyeur who has a disturbing, covetous streak.
We soon learn that Agatha is up to no good. She’s a liar and not a very good one and she may not be quite right in the head. Either that or she’s just annoyed about how unfair life is. She is impressed and irritated by the beautiful Meghan with her glamorous partner and her blog and her two kids already! Why can’t she have that life?
The Secrets She Keeps is Sydney-based Michael Robotham’s 12th novel and is as brilliant as his recent Close Your Eyes and Life or Death, which won the UK Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger award in 2015. It begins as an acute, psychologically penetrating character study before moving into hair-raising thriller territory in the second and third acts.
As you would expect of someone with Robotham’s gifts for narrative the plot unfolds with clever, ruthless efficiency, but what really impresses is his sympathetic and well-observed unpacking of the two women’s loves and lives. Both have secrets, both have made mistakes and both are trying to navigate a complex web of emotional entanglements.
Meghan is a self-aware hero who is cognisant that her life may read like a sunny cliche to her many readers but who knows that even her minor celebrity is something of a gilded cage. Agatha’s existence is not a one-note stave of gloom and misery.
People are kind to her and at one point she is offered a surprising escape out of the pit she is digging for herself via a gentle letter from her estranged mother, who wants her to leave gloomy London and come live with her in the apartment she is renting in sunny Marbella.
Unfortunately for everyone Agatha is too far gone by this stage. Her obsession with Meghan is running deep.
Robotham plays with the trope of the alter ego here: Echo and Narcissus, Isaac and Esau and Fyodor Dostoyevksy’s 1866 novel The Double where a lowly clerk encounters a facsimile of himself in a snowstorm; but this other him is everything that the clerk is not: confident, happy, successful, respected. Meghan, too, has a little of the doomed Miranda Grey in her from John Fowles’s The Collector.
Agatha ingratiates herself with Meghan by first imprisoning and then pretending to save her toddler, Lachlan, from a storage room at the supermarket. A grateful Meghan is delighted to see her when she turns up at her yoga class and the women begin an unlikely friendship. Agatha admires Meghan’s ability to
transform herself from a pony-tailed Lycra clad gym bunny into a sophisticated modern wife and mother. Next to her I feel as clumsy and frumpy as a pantomime horse.
By this stage of the novel we’ve realised something important about Agatha’s baby that explains her fixation on Meghan.
Inspired by a real-life hospital kidnap incident from the 1990s, The Secrets She Keeps is also an adroit satire on the media feeding frenzy that surrounds cases such as this. Meghan and Jack remind one of the McCanns, another Irish couple living in Britain whose child was taken from them and who have been blamed and trolled mercilessly since. This is a taut, scary and effective thriller but it’s also a sociological portrait of a society where cupidity, stupidity and fame often coalesce to make a toxic brew.
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."