The story is set at the height of the Troubles, in 1981. IRA prisoners are engaged in a hunger strike in protest to recent actions of the hated British government, and each time a "martyr" dies, the riots, bombings and other protests accelerate. The British have flooded Northern Ireland with troops, but that only increases the tension and the violence.
Against that backdrop, Sean Duffy is assigned to investigate the murders of two gay men, each of whom had one of his hands chopped off. It initially appears that a serial killer is targeting gay men. (Gay sex was still illegal in Ireland at the time.) But as Duffy pushes his investigation it becomes clear that something larger and more sinister may be at work, and the young detective will have to buck his superiors and risk his own health and well-being if he's going to find a solution.
Sean Duffy is a very attractive protagonist--smart, witty, and a bit subversive, and this is a first-rate novel. The plot is complex and intelligent, and it moves along at a very brisk pace. Even the minor characters are well-drawn and interesting, but what really sets the book apart is the way in which McKinty sets the scene. His description of Northern Ireland in these turbulent times is outstanding, and the way in which these otherwise ordinary people conduct their lives in the face of the violence and unrest is compelling. I'm late getting to this series, but I'll be catching up very quickly. 4.5 stars for this one.