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Review: Crime: A June of Ordinary Murders by Conor Brady

Son of a policeman. Former editor of the Garda Review. Former member of the Garda Ombudsman Commission. In the circumstances, it's not surprising that Conor Brady, former Irish Times editor, would turn his hand to crime eventually.

In the fictional sense, at least.

A June Of Ordinary Murders, his debut novel, is set in Dublin in 1887 when crime was classified as either 'special' meaning political, or 'ordinary' meaning everything else.

So when Detective Sergeant Joe Swallow is called out to the Phoenix Park to investigate the discovery of the mutilated bodies of a man and young boy, he must quickly establish into which category these murders fall.

Inevitably, things are not what they first seem -- well, there wouldn't be a story otherwise -- and Swallow finds himself having to tiptoe carefully as the trail leads deep into the upper echelons of Dublin society.

Which is de rigueur in crime fiction, too. Meanwhile, just to complicate matters further, a local crime lord dies, leading to rivalry between different factions seeking control of the city's underworld.

Could the two deaths be linked? Of course they are. The first rule of crime fiction is Everything Is Connected. The second being The Body Count Must Rise. And what's this? A woman's body found floating in the Grand Canal. . .

Brady handles the political atmosphere of the time with aplomb. A June Of Ordinary Murders pulsates with a vivid sense of a country on edge as the land wars rage and preparations get under way for a royal visit.

His descriptions of the oppressive heatwave that settled on Dublin that month are equally impressive, as "the human waste that accumulated in thousands of dry lavatories baked and stank in the heat".

All that authenticity does come at a price, however. Having done so much research, Brady seems determined to pack it all in, leading to pages of background detail that slow down the narrative at times to an often sluggish pace.

One chapter even begins with the following unforgivable sentence: "Dublin's northerly latitude and prevailing westerly airflow ensure that it rarely enjoys any sustained elevation of barometric pressure." You don't say?

Despite being the central character in a long book, our hero Swallow also remains something of a blank canvas.

He certainly has his share of the fictional detective's requisite foibles, including a complicated love life and a dark, cynical view of the world. But it's one thing to be told this about a man, and quite another to see it for ourselves.

By the end, Swallow remains the book's second biggest puzzle. The first being how he didn't spot that rather clunky giveaway clue right at the start of the investigation.

That's the problem with crime fiction. Readers are now so familiar with the tropes of the genre, they're always one step ahead of the author.

A June Of Ordinary Murders is a solid start to Swallow's fictional career, but a word of warning, Sergeant: don't make the same mistake again or you'll soon be back to directing traffic.

Indo Review