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by Michael Russell
Avon, October 2012
468 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 1847563465

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

There is a vivid and colourful opening to this book as the author describes the 31st International Eucharist Congress held at Phoenix Park, Dublin in the summer of 1932. A young man is searching for a priest who is taking part in the Congress. The priest's reaction, when he is eventually found, is one of guilt, the reason for which is soon made clear, and it comes as no surprise when the young man is murdered. Two years later the body is accidentally discovered, having been buried on a nearby hill. Shortly afterwards a second body is discovered there.

The fact that this second murder has been committed using the same modus operandi points to an obvious connection between the two victims. Earlier Detective Sergeant Gillespie had come across a young Jewish woman, Hannah Rosen, when he had been investigating the case of a doctor performing illegal abortions. She had been searching for her friend who had disappeared and Gillespie realizes that the second body is that of the missing friend. The book is concerned with establishing the reason for the murders and then with finding the killer an investigation which leads Gillespie and Hannah to the city of Danzig.

THE CITY OF SHADOWS is in three parts, the first and last taking place in Dublin and the second in Danzig. Whilst the Aristotelian structure requiring a beginning, a middle and an end is observed, it is a pity that the middle isn't a little more interesting. There are two distinct kinds of writing, the Dublin story being much more personal. In these sections, Michael Russell goes to considerable pains to provide us with details of Gillespie's home and background, as well as his life as a Garda officer. We are presented with an Ireland largely run by the Catholic Church, where homosexuality is not only illegal but viewed with a loathing that is hard for the modern reader to grasp, where even the parents of a young homosexual man find themselves incapable of understanding, let alone forgiving him. The priests and nuns are bullies who have appropriated to themselves a power and authority which no one is permitted to question. There are two incidents that show the author's own feelings towards this state of affairs. The Mother Superior at a convent, which is being operated as virtually a slave labour laundry, insults Hannah Rosen for being 'a Jewess' and when Hannah returns the insult she is slapped across the face. That reproof is what the watching laundry girls have come to expect. What neither they nor the Mother Superior expect is Hannah's slapping her just as hard in return.

A local priest is trying to force Gillespie - who is not a Catholic, but whose dead wife was - to hand his son over for adoption by a Catholic family. In a similarly dramatic scene he eventually loses patience with the priest and brings the argument to a close by punching him on the nose. This part of the story, Gillespie's struggle with the church authorities and his gently-told love affair with Hannah, is never less than gripping and the characters in it are presented with a vividness not usually found in a thriller. Of these, Gillespie, a man determined to do his duty whatever the circumstances, is the most memorable.

By contrast that part of the story set in Danzig is much less appealing and much more of a conventional thriller. There is a lot or hurrying hither and thither by Gillespie and Hannah in a search for information. There are the usual villains, in this case the Gestapo, Brownshirts and the Hitler Youth. Russell seems unable quite to decide whether to pursue the plot or to tell us what he knows about the fascinating Free City of Danzig before it was taken over by Hitler. It is all a little confusing and rather dull compared with the Dublin part of the book. It is a relief when Gillespie returns to Ireland to take up his personal battle with the religious establishment. The identity of the murderer is revealed but, more importantly, we learn how the conflict in his family life is resolved and how his love affair with Hannah develops.

Arnold Taylor is a retired Examinations Board Officer, amateur writer and even more amateur bridge player.

Reviewed by Arnold Taylor, November 2012

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