Book review: The Eloquence of the Dead - Conor Brady
Delving back into the dark of Victorian-era Dublin murk
Fiction, The Eloquence of the Dead, Conor Brady, New Island, €14.99. Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350
A year ago, the former Irish Times editor Conor Brady made a very impressive debut as a crime writer when he introduced us to the murky and compelling world of Sergeant Joe Swallow, a determined detective in late 19th-Century Dublin, who had to solve some baffling murders against a finely evoked atmosphere of a dangerous city, a hysterical media and the competitive intrigues of his cut-throat workplace.
With growing Fenian unrest, the police priority was to contain the special (or, in our modern day parlance, 'paramilitary') murders while dealing with the regular crimes, or 'ordinary decent crimes', so to speak.
If all this sounds familiar, that's because Brady has given us a city and backdrop from a different era but with issues and characteristics of a most contemporary resonance, one of the many satisfying achievements with a genre that is difficult to pull off, but which Brady has here mastered and transformed.
Not least he has given us a compelling and memorable central character in the shape of Detective Swallow, a world-weary policeman who has seen it all and yet who pursues his leads no matter to what uncomfortable places they lead, including corruptions and dark secrets at the heart of his own police and political establishment.
The recreation of such a world in Victorian-era Dublin is particularly satisfying and now that a TV series has been made of the Quirke detective novels of Benjamin Black (aka John Banville), perhaps some ambitious TV or film director could think of a similar recreation of the Joe Swallow stories, complete with gas lamps, polished cobbles, horses, whores and Fenians.
The book deserved it, and certain eagle-eyed film companies should right now be making some early phone calls to Brendan Gleeson and the suitably gloomy Stephen Rea. The twilight era of Victorian times endlessly appeals. Just look at the success of the recent Sherlock Holmes TV mysteries in the UK.
In this sequel, Joe Swallow has been handed another difficult mission after a pawnbroker has been murdered and the main suspect has gone missing. Inevitably, Swallow finds much more than he bargained for and uncovers some shocking connections to high authorities.
Under pressure to produce results, not least by an overly critical media, Swallow travels to London, where he makes new leads and discoveries. Brady packs in so much into this novel that it is hard to do it all justice – and not also give away some of the wonderful twists and turns.
Suffice to say, it is a meaty read, but with impressive pacing. It's both quicker to take off and has less diversion into sometimes unnecessary detail than in his debut book.
And, as with a recent political and crime debut by Colm Keena (coincidentally also of the Irish Times parish), a preoccupation with commercial property, and its often deadly consequences, proves to be a theme that has both a historical and a very contemporary significance.
If the RTÉ drama department are looking for something to fill a Love/Hate-sized hole in next year's schedule, they could do worse than look at the continuing development, and adventures, of Detective Joe Swallow.