Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Review of The City in Darkness by Michael Russell (2016, Constable)

The tail end of 1939. The IRA have raided a military arsenal in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. A postman has gone missing in Wicklow. Detective Inspector Stefan Gillespie of the Dublin Special Branch finds himself involved in both cases. In the former, he’s hunting down the perpetrators and the missing weapons, all the while suspecting his boss might have a hand in the raid. In the latter, he’s sent to help with the investigation given the local police are suspects in the disappearance and suspected murder. The postman had a side line in gossip and blackmail and in his possessions is a hint that the tragic accident that led to the death of Gillespie’s wife several years earlier was actually part of a series of four murders. He starts to investigate, with the evidence suggesting a man in Spain might be able to shed some light on the matter. As it happens, the Irish ambassador to Spain requires an escort back to the country, where he is hoping via connections with German intelligence to free Frank Ryan, an Irish man on the wrong side in the Spanish Civil War, and Gillespie sets off as his chaperone.

The City in Darkness is the third book in the Stefan Gillespie series set in 1930s/40s Ireland, with jaunts to other locations. In this book, Gillespie suspects his boss of involvement in an IRA raid on a military arsenal and investigates the disappearance of a postman, which segues into an investigation into the death of his wife. The trail leads him to Spain and the old Irish college at Salamanca and to efforts by the Irish ambassador to free Frank Ryan from one of Franco’s prisons. As usual, Russell uses Gillespie’s cases as a way to explore the wider politics and international incidents at the time. In this case, the involvement of Irish forces on both sides in the Spanish civil war, the role of German military intelligence in freeing IRA leader, internal politics between agencies in Ireland, the actions of the IRA during the war, and Ireland’s neutrality. Even the disappearance of the postman was a real event, though Russell spins it into a whole other story line. The result is an murder mystery with an interesting context, a nice sense of place and time, and an engaging plot. It did feel a little contrived in places, with the story shoehorned around real events, though this little detracted from the read. Overall, another good addition to a very good series.

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