Thursday, August 16, 2012

Review of A June of Ordinary Murders by Conor Brady (New Island, 2012)

At the height of a sweltering hot Dublin summer in June 1887 two bodies are found in the Phoenix Park, their faces disfigured.  The case is assigned to the Detective Sergeant Sam Swallow of G Division, the unit of Dublin Metropolitan Police that investigate ordinary and special (political) murders in the city.  Unable to identify the bodies, the investigation almost immediately stalls.  Shortly afterwards another body is discovered.  Tension in the city is already high given growing nationalist unrest, an imminent royal visit as part of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, and the death of Ces Downes leader of one of Dublin’s most prominent criminal gangs and the manoeuvring to take over her empire.  Swallow is put under pressure from his superiors and the media to solve the cases quickly, but as he slowly makes progress political forces work to halt his advance.  Stubborn, cynical and resourceful, Swallow is prepared to see the case to its resolution regardless of who he upsets and its consequences.

A June of Ordinary Murders is an engaging historical police procedural.  The start is quite ponderous and has too much show and not enough tell, with Brady spending time setting out the organisation of the Dublin police force, sometimes repeating certain information, and positioning the main characters.  As the story unfolds the storytelling becomes more lively with a number of intersecting subplots, and the tale progresses to a nice resolution.  The set-up is fairly standard police procedural fare, with Swallow being somewhat of a maverick, outsider cop with an idiot boss in Inspector Boyle and who is used to battling the interfering forces of the media and elite classes (in this case the British administration and city official).  The characterisation is generally good throughout, especially Swallow, though the criminal classes and Boyle felt a bit caricaturish (also it’s difficult to take seriously any character named ‘Pisspot’, especially someone meant to be a ruthless criminal boss).  The historicisation is well done, transporting the reader to late nineteenth century Dublin and its inequalities and political machinations.  Overall, after a stilted start, A June of Ordinary Murders is an enjoyable multi-layered tale and a fine addition to Irish crime fiction.  I look forward to Swallow's next outing.

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