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The City Underground by Michael Russell

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Crime/Thriller | Historical Fiction
The City Underground by Michael Russell

By Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

“In three years as a private detective, Emmet Warde had made many mistakes. He often felt the job itself was a mistake. The woman was certainly a mistake. He could have said no, the first time she came to see him. It was hard now.”

The City Underground by Michael Russell is published with Constable. It is the seventh book in this series featuring Stefan Gillespie and is described as ‘a gripping historical thriller.’

When we join Stefan Gillespie he is an Inspector with the Garda Special Branch based in Dublin Castle. It is 1941. The Second World War is unleashing chaos across Europe and beyond yet Ireland remains steadfast in her neutrality. But on the landmass of Ireland an internal war still rages as the memories of the Civil War continue to be felt across generations. It is twenty years later, but the brutality and the horrors of those years have left their mark and for some the fight goes on, a fight that will last for many, many years.

When a German spy escapes from Mountjoy Prison in Dublin, Stefan Gillespie is requested to investigate. The instruction does seem to contradict the message filtering through which is that Irish Military Intelligence may have offered assistance with the escape. With initial evidence gathered, it would suggest that the IRA were also involved. Gillespie makes contact with Emmet Warde, a private detective with no lust for life and an addiction to alcohol. Emmet Warde was a high ranking officer in the Free State’s army during the Civil War but now lives alone and works alone, drowning his sorrows in the bottom of a whiskey bottle, left with the memories of those dark dark days.

Emmet Warde is not known for his success rate as a PI but due to his past history he gets a rather persistent request from Josie Kilmartin to help look for her brother who went missing one afternoon in 1922. Josie Kilmartin is an IRA courier. Josie’s brother Eamon had been putting up anti-treaty posters when he was taken into custody for questioning, along with his friend Brendan Davey. On release, neither were ever seen again. Josie knows her brother is dead but all she now wants is his body to be returned so that she can organise a proper burial for him. With Emmet Warde’s connections and background, and although they are very much on different sides of the political divide, Josie Kilmartin needs his help.

But as Emmet accepts her job offer, he unwittingly walks into a hornet’s nest. Garda Special Branch are alerted and it is to Emmet Ward that Stefan Gillespie is sent to find out more about the escape of the German spy. It is known that Josie Kilmartin is somehow involved and Gillespie is sent to coerce Warde into assisting their investigation. His connection to Josie could provide the much needed information that Gillespie and his boss are looking for.

The search begins in Dublin but its scope widens when word filters through that a big meeting of the powers that be within the IRA, from both the Northern and Southern commands, is to take place at a secret location on the west coast. With Emmet Warde in place a plan is enacted but, like all good plans, things very suddenly go off script and Gillespie finds himself north of the border, way beyond the remit of his position within Special Branch. Lives are in danger and it is left to Gillespie to execute a rescue that could have huge repercussions if he fails.

The City Underground by Michael RussellAs well as being an engaging thriller, The City Underground is a fascinating insight into the relatively recent history of Ireland’s political upheaval. In both the Preface and the Notes and Acknowledgements, Michael Russell provides plenty of additional detail that fleshes out further background information that really rounds off the plot for anyone with an interest in Ireland’s complicated past. Stefan Gillespie is a believable and troubled individual who carries his own personal demons with dignity. He is a loyal and reliable member of the force who doesn’t shy away from trouble and gets the job in hand done. I thoroughly enjoyed The City Underground with its credible storyline and its cast of plausible characters. Using a blend of fact and fiction scattered throughout adds to the overall authenticity of the story and gives the reader a real sense of time and place. Atmospheric, complex and convincing The City Underground is a real entertaining read, one that perfectly captures the attention.

(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Order your copy online here.

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