There have been some very interesting historical crime novels set in Ireland recently: Kevin McCarthy’s PEELER, as noted; Eoin McNamee’s novels from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s; Benjamin Black’s novels, set in 1950s Dublin; Cora Harrison’s fifteenth century books set in Clare’s Burren country; Adrian McKinty’s THE COLD COLD GROUND, which is set during the hunger strikes of 1981.
It’s a relatively small number of titles, but it makes for an interesting trend, and A JUNE OF ORDINARY MURDERS is a fine addition to the ranks. To wit:
DUBLIN SWELTERS IN the notorious heatwave of June 1887 as Conor Brady’s debut novel opens. The authorities at Dublin Castle are more concerned with the city’s simmering political tensions. With Prince Albert Victor due in Dublin to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee against a backdrop of violent Land League agitation, the castle is concerned that any one of a number of subversive organisations might attempt an assassination.For the rest, clickety-click here …
So when Det Sgt Joseph Swallow of Dublin Metropolitan Police’s G division is sent to the Chapelizod Gate in Phoenix Park to investigate the discovery of the badly mutilated bodies of a man and a young boy, the authorities are initially relieved that the murders are “ordinary” rather than politically motivated.
In all the best crime fiction, however, a juicy murder tends to minimise the distance between the criminal fraternity and the higher echelons of society, and such is the case in A June of Ordinary Murders . The death of career criminal Cecelia “Pisspot Ces” Downes makes matters trickier for Swallow, as her grasping lieutenants jockey to fill the power vacuum left in her wake, and the subsequent discovery of a young woman’s body in the Grand Canal complicates things even more.
Brady weaves a police procedural that does full justice to the complex nature of the social, political and criminal labyrinth that was Dublin in the summer of 1887. He paints a vivid picture of the city as it bakes beneath the unrelenting sun, employing Joe Swallow’s sharp eye and the character’s ambitions as an amateur painter to deftly sketch both its landmarks and its less salubrious corners.
The novel is set at the dawn of what we would now consider to be the age of forensic science, and we find Swallow dabbling in such radical innovations as ballistics and reconstructive portraiture. There’s also the occasional nugget of historical delight to be gleaned, such as the archaic notion of a “dying declaration”, a legal concept that held a man’s final words to be sound as evidence in court, on the basis that no dying man would knowingly lie.