Monday, December 24, 2012

Review of The City of Shadows by Michael Russell (Avon, 2012)

It’s 1934 and the shadow of the war of independence and civil war still hangs over Ireland, their politics and factions infusing everyday life along with the rising power of the Church.  On the continent, fascism is a growing force, particularly in Germany as the Nazi party consolidates its grip on government, terrorizes Jewish citizens and threatens other nations.  When Stefan Gillespie, a detective sergeant in Dublin, stakes out a German back street abortionist, he little realizes he’s about to stumble into a tangled conspiracy of blackmail and murder that stretches from Dublin to Danzig.  On entering the clinic Gillespie encounters Hannah Rosen, a strong willed Jewess who has returned to Dublin from Palestine to investigate the disappearance of her best friend.  Very quickly Special Branch grabs the abortionist case from Gillespie and he swaps his attention to discovering what happened to Hannah’s friend, who’d been having an affair with a priest.  As he starts to investigate it’s clear that others want him to drop the case and they’re prepared to use coercion if necessary.  Gillespie is already vulnerable, a Protestant and single father to Tom in a country that favours neither status, but he’s also resilient and doesn’t react well to threats.  Meanwhile, Hannah has followed the trail to the priest to Danzig, a free city under political siege by Nazis keen to reintegrate it into Germany.

The City of Shadows is quite simply a brilliant crime novel.  Although his debut novel, Michael Russell has a wealth of experience as a television scriptwriter (Midsomer Murders, A Touch of Frost, Emmerdale) and it shows in the quality of the story, which works at every level - plotting, sense of place, historical contextualisation, characterization.  Whilst the plot is expansive and complex, it is straightforward to follow and utterly compelling, grabbing the reader from the start and not letting up in intrigue or pace, and very well structured.  There are plenty of twists, turns and feints, with the reader kept guessing until the very end as to the mystery of the disappearance of Hannah’s friend.  Russell drops the reader into the landscapes of Dublin, rural Wicklow and Danzig, and the heady mix of state and religious politics both at a senior actor level and how it played out in everyday life.  There is real attention to historical detail and recreating the social and political atmosphere of the time.  Stefan Gillespie and Hannah Rosen are both wonderful characters, each trying to fight a system that is seemingly too large and powerful.  Russell brings both to life and their fragile relationship is well penned, as are the myriad of secondary characters.  Overall, The City of Shadows is a entertaining and gripping story that I thoroughly recommend.

1 comment:

Paul D Brazill said...

Sounds great. I'll check it out!