A skeleton is found in Vic­to­rian Dublin’s Pod­dle

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - BOOKS | REVIEWS - DE­CLAN BURKE

INTHEDARKRIVER CONOR BRADY New Is­land, 292pp, ¤14.95

Joe Swal­low should be a happy man. Re­cently pro­moted to de­tec­tive in­spec­tor in the Dublin Metropoli­tan Po­lice as a re­sult of con­sis­tent ex­cel­lence, as de­tailed in for­mer Ir­ish Times ed­i­tor Conor Brady’s pre­vi­ous Vic­to­rian-era nov­els – A June of Or­di­nary Mur­ders (2012), The Elo­quence of the Dead (2013) and A Hunt in Win­ter (2016) – Swal­low is liked by the rank and file of Dublin Cas­tle and es­teemed by his chief, John Mal­lon. He has even earned the grudg­ing re­spect of Dublin’s crim­i­nal fra­ter­nity, chief among them the Vanuc­chi Gang. Newly mar­ried to his beloved Maria, Joe Swal­low should be able to put his feet up on his desk and en­joy the fruits of his labour.

Not that he wants to. The tragedy of Maria’s re­cent mis­car­riage, and his in­abil­ity to ar­tic­u­late his grief, have driven Swal­low to take on a greater work­load, over­see­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the skeleton dis­cov­ered in an un­der­ground branch of the Pod­dle and tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for in­ves­ti­gat­ing an armed rob­bery at the Rath­gar home of one of Dublin’s le­gal ea­gles. And then there’s the rather press­ing is­sue of Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tives em­ploy­ing the Vic­to­rian equiv­a­lent of black ops as they try to de­stroy Charles Ste­wart Par­nell and the Ir­ish Par­lia­men­tary Party... ..

In the Dark River opens in Madrid, with jour­nal­ist Richard Pig­gott brood­ing on his dis­grace. His at­tempt to smear Par­nell re­vealed as forg­eries, Pig­gott likely faces a charge of per­jury should he re­turn to Ire­land. Was Pig­gott’s hu­mil­i­a­tion and ruin suf­fi­cient to cause him to take his own life, as the Bri­tish Se­cret Ser­vice sug­gests? Or is Swal­low right to be­lieve that Pig­gott, a pawn, was sim­ply taken off the board?

Par­nell’s im­mi­nent fall from grace casts a long shadow across In the Dark River – the reader un­der­stands that, in the long run, Swal­low’s machi­na­tions as he strives to pro­tect “the un­crowned king of Ire­land” are ir­rel­e­vant. That flies in the face of the cer­tain­ties (truth, jus­tice, the sta­tus quo up­held) that crime fic­tion tends to of­fer, but Brady of­fers a sim­i­larly idio­syn­cratic take on the other in­ves­ti­ga­tions that oc­cupy Swal­low’s time: crooks get off scot-free, killers go un­ac­cused, vil­lains form covert al­liances with the po­lice. Don’t be fooled by the his­tor­i­cal set­ting and the gen­teel tone, the “cosy” style and the po­lice pro­ce­dural form: be­neath its ap­par­ently placid sur­face, In the Dark River is any­thing but a tra­di­tional mys­tery novel.

It’s as if the dark river – which we ini­tially as­sume to be the Pod­dle, which wends its way be­neath the Dublin streets, and in which the woman’s skeleton is dis­cov­ered – is in fact Time it­self. All the cases that present them­selves for Swal­low’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan bub­bling up long ago, and only emerge into view when it is too late for Swal­low to do any­thing but be­lat­edly ap­pre­ci­ate the ex­tent to which he is out of his depth. He can make all the ap­pro­pri­ate ges­tures – open a mur­der book, del­e­gate de­tec­tives to in­ves­ti­gate killings and rob­beries, en­gage in counter-in­tel­li­gence de­signed to frus­trate the Bri­tish Se­cret Ser­vice – but all the while the river keeps flow­ing re­lent­lessly on.

Joe Swal­low is a good man and a good po­lice­man, but he is not su­per­hu­man. Crime was as in­trin­sic to Vic­to­rian Dublin as it was to the modern city, and no one man, no mat­ter how grudg­ingly re­spected he is, is go­ing to per­suade the Vanuc­chi Gang and their ilk to go straight. De­spite Swal­low’s best ef­forts, Charles Ste­wart Par­nell is doomed. If that fa­tal­is­tic streak runs con­trary to the crime novel’s ex­pec­ta­tions, so be it. Joe Swal­low – solid and depend­able, loyal to the cause of the greater good even as he floun­ders about in the dark river – is ar­guably the most re­al­is­tic po­lice­man in Ir­ish crime fic­tion’s thin blue line.

De­clan Burke is an author and jour­nal­ist

Conor Brady: any­thing but a tra­di­tional mys­tery novel

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