The events of this novel largely take place in Belfast and neighboring towns in the spring of 1981. McKinty was still a child during this historic, tragic moment of Northern Ireland's recent history--and lived through them as a child--but I was an American twenty-something, traveling through England and other parts of Europe for the first time. I didn't get to Northern Ireland, of course--probably wouldn't have even dared if I'd thought of it. But the Hunger Strikes which form a part of the background of this story were much on the mind of everyone in England that we met, that and the Royal Wedding, as well as the assassination attempt on the Pope and other things that mark this novel as accurate to its specific moment. So, for me, there is an odd nostalgia that goes along with this story, and it had an almost uncanny ability to restore the memories of a long forgotten time.
This is the book I've half-consciously wanted McKinty to write since I first began reading him a few years ago. In the earlier Dead I Well May Be, we get a tantalizing look at life in Northern Ireland as the story opens, where we meet Michael Forsythe signing up for some illegal work in Belfast. No sooner do we start to settle into that life, though, than Michael finds himself fleeing the country entirely. Dead I Well May Be is a wonderful book, and one I highly recommend if you haven't read it yet, but there was a part of me that felt a bit cheated when we rather abruptly rejoin Michael, living an illegal alien's life in Harlem, New York. The Northern Ireland that Michael Forsythe slips out of is not quite the Northern Ireland of 1981, but they are older brother and younger brother to each other. There is a bomb at the beginning of Dead I Well May Be, there are more than one in The Cold Cold Ground. One thing that most of us in the world are fortunate enough not to have experienced is what its like to try and live a normal life alongside the violence of a local partisan war. This book, despite being a story about solving a murder, begins to tell us a little about that.