The Eloquence of the Dead – Murder in Victorian Dublin
“Ah but it’s great, to know that the poor sloggers in the police can take credit for keeping the system going.”
Dublin, 1887; a time of great political unrest in Ireland where new plots by various separatist movements occur almost daily while Land Reforms buy out the old English landlords and give their land to the former tenants. In the shadow of all this political upheaval, pawn broker Ambrose Pollack is found brutally murdered and his spinster sister has disappeared. G-Squad’s Sergeant Joe Swallow, who investigates crimes out of Dublin castle that range from ordinary homicides to potential acts of terrorism, is assigned to the case.
The Eloquence of the Dead is actually author Conor Brady’s second novel starring Joe Swallow. (The first was A June of Ordinary Murders.) Brady was editor of the Irish Times for over sixteen years and has clearly mastered the arts of writing and research. He gives us an engaging mystery with a wonderfully evocative setting; we’ve read a lot about Victorian England before but Victorian Ireland?!? Not so much. It comes to life here as the story takes us everywhere from bustling Dublin streets to the green countryside. The times are used to great effect as well; Swallow is bemused to meet a dreamy-eyed, superstitious young scholar of Celtic history, and would be poet Yeats. Fingerprint technology is just starting to come into vogue.
Joe Swallow is a great protagonist. A would be doctor whose medical studies were derailed by his fondness for the drink, Swallow is a fiercely intelligent man as well an divided one. Swallow finds himself torn between indignation at the corruption of the political system around him, and resignation to reality. He’s sympathetic to the Fenian cause but he’s sworn to uphold law and order. And as an Irish Catholic, his career has been stalled for over a decade despite his having one of the best records on the force. When not investigating murders, Swallow takes watercolor lessons and tries to navigate his increasingly complicated relationships with the various women in his life – former landlady and torch Mrs. Walsh, possible new love interest the younger Jewish Ms. Greenberg, and his own sister who exasperates him with her nationalist sympathies and new-fangled views on women’s liberation. Brady has created a rich new series for any fan of historical detective fiction.
The Eloquence of the Dead