Dan Starkey was a well-known journalist in the Belfast of the 80’s. Now he has set himself up as “a boutique, bespoke service for important people with difficult problems”. In other words, an upmarket private eye. He is consulted by a journalist colleague from the past, Jack Caramac, who is now the very well-known presenter of a radio chat show, which highlights crime and corruption and defends the weak and helpless. Jack’s young son has been kidnapped for one hour. Although the child has been returned unharmed, Jack wants Dan to find out who took him, and why.
The difficulty for Dan is that the likely candidates are legion, as every edition of Jack’s show earns him more enemies. Dan’s personal problems also impede his efficiency (all self-inflicted). He is living apart from his wife, Patricia, whom he claims he adores and longs to get back together with. She has kicked him out and doesn’t want him back, for which she can hardly be blamed, as he is sleeping regularly with a barmaid from his local, the Bob Shaw.
Dan’s deepest suspicions about the kidnap lie in the direction of the Miller brothers, who are officially in charge of the UVF, but in reality are the most vicious bunch of thugs and racketeers you could ever meet on a dark night. They have recently been trying to persuade the widow of a former gang rival of theirs, Jean Murray, to move out of her house in the Shankhill Road. The persuasion has included shooting her teenage son Bobby, resulting in the loss of one of his legs.
Jack has been speaking out in her defence on his radio show. Dan recklessly decides to go and face up to the Millers in their HQ, as he believes he will be able to talk them into leaving the Murrays alone because of the information he has on their drug dealing, and he hopes to get some more information about the kidnap. The immediate result is that the Murrays’house is burnt down with Jean inside it. In the meantime Jack tells Dan that he needn’t continue with the enquiry into the kidnapping, and pays him off.
Dan is determined to carry on anyway, with some assistance from Jack’s wife Tracey, with whom he has a history. Bobby Murray escaped the fire, and Dan is determined to protect him. Bobby is a most unappealing little brat, but Dan succeeds in persuading his ex-wife Trish to give him board and lodging for a short while, and even finds him a job with a friendly butcher.
The plot thickens considerably as Dan discovers that the Millers’ drugs racket extends as far as the Stormont Assembly.
If you can stand the extreme violence and the ripe language, this is a pacey tale, and you can’t dislike Dan, no matter how hard you try.