‘I don’t think that’s so, Michael. I think you wanted Alice to be your girl. And when she said no and no again, you decided to punish her.’
‘Punish her?’ Carmody seemed genuinely puzzled. ‘Wha’ de ya mean?’
‘I mean that you waited for her on the way home from work and killed her. And that’s why you cleared off out of Dublin and ended up here.’
Carmody shook his head violently.
‘Ah Jesus, no. Are you telling me that somewan killed Alice? Sure she wouldn’t hurt a fly. Why would anywan want to do tha’?’
Swallow put on his angriest tone.
‘Don’t give me that sort of bullshit. You know damned well that she’s dead. That’s why you left Dublin so bloody fast. You weren’t happy about being given the push. She put you down, insulted your pride, so you decided to teach her a lesson. Isn’t that what happened?’
Carmody made the sign of the cross on him.
‘I swear, Misther Swalla’, you’re wrong, wrong, wrong entirely. I didn’t know about anythin’ happenin’ to Alice. I went on a batter after leavin’ work with the few quid I had. Drank me way aroun’ Dublin for the best part of the week, and the next I knew I was on the packet on me way to Liverpool. I have a brother there. I swear it. I’m not proud to say it, but I’m a bit doubtful how I ended up on that boat or who put me there.’
Either he really was telling the truth or he was a world-class actor, Swallow reckoned. A little more pressure might tell him which.
‘That’s very convenient, Michael. You just got mouldy drunk and you can’t remember anything. The judge won’t be impressed with that story. He’s heard it too often before.’
‘No, wait. I can tell ya this,’ Carmody wagged a finger. ‘It’s comin’ back. There were bobbies. Two o’ them. Two big fellas. They picked me up at Sackville Street, took me to the station a bit and then they marched me to the North Wall to the boat. I remember that. I remember tellin’ them I have a brother in Liverpool and I had the fare in me pocket. He’s workin’ on the docks there. Got a missus and a child, he has. I kipped in wi’ them for a few days, but the missus didn’t want me aroun’ and I had to go. The brother loaned me the cash to get on through England to come here.’
If it was true that Carmody had been in police custody, even briefly, before leaving Dublin, there was nothing in the DCR file about it, Swallow knew. But that would not necessarily be surprising. Beatmen were notoriously careless about paperwork. And what Carmody had described was commonplace in the C-Division around the docks. Young country men, bound for England and hoping to find employment there, frequently fell victim to drink, or the ladies of ‘Monto’, or both, as they tried to make their way to the steam-packet wharf on the North Wall. If they came to the attention of the police, the simple solution was often to assist them on their way.
I expected more from this historical mystery, especially considering there are so many things in here that I normally enjoy a lot.
The set out was great: two murders and one attack on women in 1880s Dublin. This kind of violence was very rare at that time in that city, especially on women. It curiously echoed what was happening in London at the same time: someone, who the press had named Jack the Ripper, was attacking and murdering women and the police seemed pretty powerless. All the first part of the novel plays on this parallel between the two cities and I found it pretty cool.
Irish political situation takes a strong stand in the story. It touches on Charles Parnell and the attempt to discredit him in the British courts which I assume to be an historical event. I’ve always been interested in Irish history, so I really enjoyed this thread at the beginning.
Then there was Joe Swallow’s personal life, going through quite an important evolution. I like it when a mystery also gives attention to other elements then the bare-bones mystery.
So I thought there were more then enough for me to enjoy this story. But I soon realised the story dagged. In the first half of the novel there’s absolutely no progress on the three attacks. Parnell’s affair creates tension and gives the possibility to see how the Irish police worked for and with (not to mention sometime against) the British authority. Although I found it interesting and quite realistic, it seems to go in circles and after a while I started to wonder what was the point of this thread.
Swallow’s personal thread was maybe the slowest and hardly seemed to go anywhere. Long scenes with many repetitions stretched one simple fact (like Swallow’s marriage) unnecessarily for many pages.
This different threads pulled my attention in different directions and because none of them seemed to move towards a definite goal, I had a hard time focusing on them and also on getting a clear impression of the structure of the story.
Halfway through the story picked. The Parnell thread created personal problems for Swallow. Then he went to Berlin pursuing a suspect, and returned to a personally tragedy in Dublin. It all sounded very exciting. I particularly enjoyed the part taking place in Berlin. It was a glimpse in the history of a city that – in the late 1800s – was very different from the one we know. It also depicted the meeting of two very similar men belonging to two very different cultures and a realistic, sympathetic way. I really liked it.
But excited as it sounded, it then all died out once the action gets back to Dublin. In the end, Swallow’s thread was the one that gave more satisfaction. Parnell’s thread resolved in nothing and the solution of the mystery was also very disappointed… at least for me.
But in spite of this, I still enjoyed many aspects of the novel.
The setting was fantastic. This is not my usual era – my reads tend to hover between WWI and the late 1920s. It was different from what I’m familiar with in so many ways, but I loved reading about the infancy of police detection. The procedures of investigation were described in details and sounded and felt so different from what we are accustomed today. But even I – who know nothing about them – could feel the research and passion that created such vivid depiction.
The city of Dublin and life in it also came to life with a strong feel. It was so easy to imagine to be there.
The political setting was also very clearly depicted, which goes to the author’s credit. Irish politic was everything but simple, especially at that time, and I’ve seen so many authors making a mess of politics because they were not familiar enough with it.
On the whole, I had the impression the author owned the setting, since he wrote about it with great ease. I just wished the story itself would have been as compelling.
In post is part of the Thursday Quotables meme. If you want to discover more about this meme and maybe take part in it, head over to Bookshelf Fantasies
This post is also part of the Ireland Reading Month organised by 746 Books and The Fluff Is Raging blogs.
To celebrate the wealth and breadth and general awesomeness of Irish cultural life, I will be co-hosting a month long celebration of all things Irish, with my partner in crime Raging Fluff.
Reading Ireland Month (or The Begorrathon as it is affectionately known) will feature book and film reviews, poems, music, interviews, giveaways and much, much more.
We’d love for you to join us!