Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Review of City of Lies by Michael Russell (Constable, 2017)

September 1940, Ireland. Two elderly brothers, their sister, and servant are found dead on a Wicklow stud farm, along with their prize horse. In the burnt out remains of the home is a German radio. The case seems open-and-shut, with the farm-hand accused of murder, but Detective Inspector Stefan Gillespie is not convinced. It’s not his case though and he has other things to occupy him, including an on-going feud between the IRA and the Irish state, the activities of the German legation, and the movements of mysterious Welshman. Then he’s asked to travel to Berlin via Lisbon and France to deliver a new code book to the Irish embassy. Once he arrives he discovers that an Irish woman is in prison accused of murder. Tangling with the Kripo and Gestapo in wartime Berlin runs certain risks, but nonetheless Gillespie smells rough justice and uses his diplomatic status to ruffle feathers. Whilst there the case brings him into contact with the small Irish community in the city.

City of Lies is the fourth book in the Inspector Stefan Gillespie series set in the late 1930s/early 1940s, with each book involving domestic and overseas adventure. As with previous outings, a lot of the story is based on real events and people, though recast fictionally. In this book, set in autumn 1940, Gillespie is tangling in Ireland with the IRA, who are dwindling in numbers as their brethren are interred for the War, and the Irish secret service. His overseas trip is to Berlin where he tangles with the German police and meets a handful of Irish citizens still living in the city and seeks to aid an Irish woman accused of killing a German soldier, and to London. At the heart of the book is Ireland’s internal politics and its relationship to Germany and Britain and two murders – one in Wicklow, one in Berlin – that are cases of rough justice, with two innocent people receiving the death penalty. In both cases, Gillespie seems the only person interested in the truth, but that’s often the victim in wars, especially where politics and intelligence services are involved. There’s an awful lot going on in the tale, with multiple strands unfolding, but Russell holds it altogether admirably. However, there probably is a little too much taking place, and the trip to London felt like a contrived plot device, and the ending seemed to tail-off into a fractured set of conclusions that felt like explanations rather than a denouements. As usual, Gillespie holds it altogether, along with Russell’s assured writing and the strong sense of time and place. Another good addition to a strong series.

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