Friday, March 13, 2020

Review of The City in Flames by Michael Russell (2019, Constable)

1940. Detective Inspector Stefan Gillespie has been suspended from the Irish special branch in order to be sent to undercover in London. Prior to leaving he spends time on his parents farm in Wicklow, where his son lives. While there a neighbouring farmer is found dead. Gillespie is suspicious, but he’s technically no longer a policeman and it seems more convenient for everyone that the death is recorded as suicide. Before he can stir things up he’s on the boat to Wales, arriving in London to take up residence as the new barman in the Bedford Arms in Camden, an IRA haunt. There he meets Vera Kennedy, seemingly an Irish woman working as a cleaner, with whom he forms a romantic relationship. However, Vera is not who she seems, having recently landed in Britain from Germany. Ultimately, her mission lies in Ireland, where she hopes to shake the country from its neutrality.

The City of Flames is the fifth book in the Inspector Gillespie series following the exploits of a single father cop in the lead up to and during the Second World War whose mother is German. As usual, Gillespie is pulled into a plot of special branch and G2, the Irish Military intelligence, aimed at maintaining Ireland’s neutrality and the status quo internally. In this episode he’s sent to London to monitor IRA activity there, but unwittingly manages to start a relationship with a German spy who has Irish roots. Together they experience the London blitz while carrying out their respective missions. At the same time, there’s been a suspicious death close to his parent’s farm. While he’s absent is father, a former cop, sets up his own investigation. The historical aspect is well realised, and the characterisation is nicely done, with a number of regular series characters making appearances. Russell spins out both plots at a fairly pedestrian pace, which are rooted in the context of Ireland’s neutrality, and involve some real characters and events. The Wicklow plot is not really necessary, but isn't too much of a distraction, and there are a couple of decent twists as the tale closes. However, both plots are held together by coincidences that are too convenient to little more than plot devices. Overall, an engaging addition to the series.

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