The City in Darkness

Written by Michael Russell
Review by Cathy Kemp

In the lead up to Christmas 1939 and with World War Two beginning across the Irish Sea, the Special Branch in Dublin appear more focused on matters closer to home, especially following a huge raid on the Military Arms store in the Phoenix Park. Detective Inspector Stefan Gillespie, initially assigned to the search for arms in the vicinity of the Pale, is surprised to be moved to assist with the investigation into the disappearance of a postman in rural County Wicklow. This is home territory for Gillespie and gives him the opportunity to spend time with his young son, who lives with Stefan’s parents since the sudden death from drowning of his wife, Maeve. By a strange twist, Stefan is engaged to accompany the Irish Ambassador to Spain at a point in the investigations where a link with the missing postman and an Irish prisoner from the Spanish Civil War, still incarcerated there, comes to his attention. This allows DI Gillespie to pursue the leads into the disappearance of the postman, but also to garner information relating to his wife’s death and those of two other young women who had similarly unexplained demises in the years preceding Maeve’s.

Beginning with two diverse storylines, Russell develops the characters, introducing them by turn and filling out their roles for the reader to become immersed in their lives. He focuses on teasing out the links between the IRA, the Garda Special Branch, and the part played by ordinary Irish men in supporting war in other European countries during this part of history – roles for which these men became targets as dissenters to their fellow countrymen.