Journalist turns experiences of Belfast and Berlin into crime novel

Henry McDonald with his new book The Swinging Detective, at last week's launch of the title at the Ulster Museum in Belfast
Henry McDonald with his new book The Swinging Detective, at last week's launch of the title at the Ulster Museum in Belfast

One of Northern Ireland’s most experienced journalists has launched his first novel, after previously writing seven non-fiction books.

Henry McDonald, who is Ireland correspondent for The Guardian and The Observer newspapers, wrote the first biography of David Trimble in 1999 among other works.

Now he has drawn on his experiences of living in Berlin as an idealistic young Marxist in 1981 when, he says, “he went to over work on the east side of the [Berlin] wall”.

Later in the 1980s he lived in the city again, on the west side of the wall before it fell, and then a third time as part of an international journalist exchange programme working for the Sunday paper WAMS near Checkpoint Charlie.

His novel ‘The Swinging Detective’ is about a former undercover soldier in Northern Ireland who is now a police officer in Berlin who is hunting a serial killer.

Henry, 51, whose earlier books include a memoir of growing up in the Troubles, ‘Colours – Ireland from Bombs to Boom’, says: “Coming from a divided city myself I have always been fascinated by the division of Berlin and even after reunification how the traces of that Cold War cleavage can still be seen.

“The Berlin of John Le Carre and Len Deighton was also highly influential in terms of me wanting to write this book.”

He says he was also “heavily influenced” musically and culturally by David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy of albums – ‘Low’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Lodger’.

He has co-authored books including ‘INLA – Deadly Divisions,’ written with the late Jack Holland, and ‘UDA – Inside The Heart of Loyalist Terror’ with Jim Cusack.

Henry’s first book ‘Irishbatt’, in 1993, charted the history of the Irish military’s UN peacekeeping in Lebanon.

He describes his more recent non-fiction work (‘Gunsmoke and Mirrors’) as “a dissection of how Sinn Fein camouflaged its many 360-degree turns from revolutionary violence to compromise”.

• The plot

Martin Peters is a former member of the Army undercover Force Research Unit. Now a police officer in Berlin, where he is hunting a serial killer whose targets are ‘popular’ with the public, he is haunted by the ghost of a female loyalist terrorist he shot dead in Belfast in 1989. Unable to get intimate, he frequents the German capital’s swingers clubs. Peters is also investigating two headless corpses washed up on Lake Havel, victims of the Russian Mafia in the city. It is a tale from Berlin’s criminal, sexual underground with echoes from the Cold War and Ulster Troubles

• The Swinging Detective, published by Gibson Square Books, is on sale in No Alibis Bookshop, Botanic Avenue, Belfast and soon in all usual outlets.