Saturday, May 26, 2012


Pages: 381
Date: 25/05/2012
Grade: 4.5
Details: Historical Mystery

“G Division divided all crime into two categories: ‘special’ or ‘ordinary’. The absolute priority was ‘special crime’ – anything with an element of politics or subversion. ‘Ordinary crime’ might be serious but it took second place to security or politically related issues.”

Dublin, June 1887. It’s the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and Dublin is getting ready for a visit by the Queen’s grandson. A royal visit that is worrying those in authority; for political reasons they need it to be a success, but Irish nationalists are forming an ever bigger threat.
On the 17th of June, the city is in the middle of an uncharacteristic heat wave when two bodies are discovered in The Phoenix Park. A man and young boy have been shot and subsequently mutilated and there is nothing to identify who they are or why they may have been killed. Detective Sergeant Joe Swallow of the Dublin Metropolitan Police is the man who has to investigate this case.
At the same time Ces Dawson, a woman running a highly effective criminal network dies, leaving in her wake a power-struggle between her deputies.
Only a day later another young woman is found murdered and this case is also assigned to Swallow.
Both cases soon prove to be very frustrating. The identity of Phoenix Park victims remains elusive, and without knowing who they are the police have little chance of discovering why they were killed, never mind by whom.
The case of the second young woman is taken of Swallow’s hands almost as soon as he discovers her identity. When it turns out she worked for a Dublin Alderman who has an important role in the upcoming royal visit the case is moved to a different security branch. A move which, Swallow realises, means that the case probably won’t be investigated properly at all.
Not inclined to concern himself with the politics of policing, Swallow doesn’t give up on either case. And when it appears that the two cases might be connected he is determined to get the bottom of it, regardless of the consequences.
And as if two murders weren’t enough to deal with Swallow has more to worry him. There is his relationship with a younger, pub-owning widow which he will have to make up his mind about. And although the murders Joe Swallow is investigating are ordinary ones, he isn’t far away from political troubles when his sister finds herself attracted to an Irish freedom fighter and his ideas. A situation which could see the girl in prison and could potentially cost Joe his job.

There is an awful lot going on in this fascinating historical mystery and the reader needs to pay attention to all of it if they want to stay on top of everything.
The mystery is well plotted and the answers are revealed in a convincing way. There are no miracle revelations or unlikely insights to move the story along and all the clues are in the story for the reader to find, provided they pay close attention (which this reader obviously didn’t).
Joe Swallow is an interesting and realistic main character. He is not without faults or above abusing his situation when he feels the need. At the same time, he has a strong sense of justice and is driven to solve his murders and see the killers brought to justice.

There is a lot of historical detail in this book. And while on the whole both the time and the setting are fascinating, I did find that at times there was maybe too much of it. In an ideal book, the historical facts would play a background role, painting a picture without taking over the story. In this book though it felt as if the author tried to get so many of such details in that it interrupted the flow of the story.
Very interesting though are the references to the early advances in the forensic sciences. While fingerprints are being hinted at, nobody is prepared to take them seriously yet. But facial reconstruction based on bone structure does play a vital part in the solution of the mystery in this book.

Overall this was a good historical mystery with an interesting main character and full of wonderful insights of Dublin in the 1880’s. If this turns out to be the first book in a series I will definitely read any sequels too.

Finally I want to share the following quote about Dubliners and their attitude to the weather. Since the weather has suddenly turned quite warm over the past few days, these lines made me smile. The rumblings about the heat are already starting:

“Dublin’s northerly latitude and prevailing westerly airflow ensure that it rarely enjoys any sustained elevation of barometric pressure or more than a few successive days of sunshine. When that pattern is broken the citizens are likely to take it as an aberration, an unnatural occurrence. Deprived of the rain and damp as their daily topics of grievance they turn irritable and fractious.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Marleen, Thanks for these kind comments re 'A June of Ordinary Murders'. I note that you organise a library reading group. I'm doing some readings at libraries in Sept Oct. Would your group be interested? You can reach me at
Kind regards,
Conor Brady