The Detective Up Late
July 30, 2023

Book Review

The Detective Up Late

reviewed by Carolyn Scott


On New Year’s Day 1990 Sean Duffy is on holiday with his partner Beth in Israel and looking forward to the new decade. After the dangers of working for Carrickfergus RUC in Belfast during the 80s, he’s decided it’s time to move on with his life and keep Beth and his young daughter Emma safe.

On his return to Belfast he will move Beth and Emma to the house they’ve bought in Portpatrick in Scotland, then finish his last case as Head of CID and become a part timer for the next three and a half years so he can complete 20 years of service and retire. He’ll still be the minder for John Strong, a paranoid informer who defected from the IRA, but he’ll only have to work seven days per month, so the two hour commute by ferry to Belfast won’t be too onerous. 

Since he expects to be firmly planted behind a desk once he moves to part time, Sean is determined to solve what he refers to as ‘Duffy’s last case’. A 15 year old girl, Kat McAtamney, from a Traveller family has disappeared, but no one was taking the case too seriously until her car was found in the river. No body was found inside the car, but with the doors open and the rough high tides, she could have been swept out to sea. 

Investigating further with his colleagues Crabbie and Lawson, Sean discovers Kat had a photoshoot with a photographer who put her in touch with three older men looking for a ‘girlfriend experience’ with a younger woman and has a strong feeling one of these men is not who they seem to be. He knows he’s on to something when the case escalates to a point where Duffy, Crabbie and Lawson are set up and targeted by a group of hitmen in an abandoned building. 

This is the seventh novel in this acclaimed series and a very fine addition it is too. In keeping with the tradition with the rest of the series, the title derives from a Tom Waites song, ‘Bad as Me’ and fits perfectly. McKinty’s trademark dark sense of humour and sarcasm pervades the novel, as does his eclectic tastes in music, literature and film, which he uses to colour Duffy’s speech and tastes. Duffy’s cynical and unconventional approach to policing is what has kept him and his colleagues alive so far. Even though the times are safer, he still carries out his ritual daily check of the underside of his car for bombs, a habit that will persist, even when he is staying in Scotland. 

Superbly written and tightly plotted, this is suspenseful and atmospheric with moments of very high tension action. Throughout the series, the character development has also been very strong, especially for Duffy who we’ve seen change from a young, reckless young man to a more mature, more responsible version, but still with his strong sense of justice. Duffy’s faithful colleagues ‘Crabbie’ McCrabban and Lawson are also moving on. Crabbie into part time retirement so he’ll have more time for his farm and Lawson to step up into Duffy’s shoes, something he’s not quite come to terms with yet. 

Although two further novels in the series are promised, this finished on the perfect note to allow Duffy to move into a new decade and on to the next phase of his life and leaves the reader wondering if Duffy how much Duffy will change once he’s no longer living a high tension life on the mean streets of Belfast. 

With thanks to Blackstone Publishing via Netgalley for a copy to read.

The Detective Up Late is available at:

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