The City of Strangers is the second novel of a political/crime thriller series, featuring an intelligent, complex, member of the Garda, Stefan Gillespie, his family, and various professional colleagues in Ireland, during the lead up, and later, within, the period of the Second World War.
The City of Shadows, the first novel, felt like a breath of fresh air, combining a crime novel moving beyond the merely domestic, set in the context of a volatile history, geography, and cataclysmic change looming on the horizon. This was Dublin, in 1934, and the background was the inexorable rise of Nazi ideology abroad. The possibility of war was looming. Ireland had been through some great changes, and there were those who thought that there was mileage in the dangerous adage that ‘my enemy’s enemy’ (Britain, the idea of a coming war with Germany) might make some kind of friend.
It is now 1939. That war has indeed started, and Britain needs America, currently neutral, as is Ireland, to come into that war.
Back in Ireland, a woman has been brutally murdered, and her son, gone to America as part of Michael MacLiammóir’s company performing a play by Shaw, needs bringing back to trial. Meanwhile, no one in the high-ups wants this bad publicity on the eve of the prestigious World Trade Fair, happening in New York, as each country is of course engaged in splendid PR for itself.
Gillespie is the man to send, both for his discretion and his ability to keep a clear and intelligent head.
But there is a lot more, of greater complexity, going on. Many German Americans and Irish Americans want to keep America out of the war. Roosevelt is edging closer to entering that war. There are various Irish Nationalist Groupings who are forming connections with German Nationalists. Some Americans of Ethiopian origins are also interested in the European war possibly leading to an end to the domination of the British empire in Africa. Some in the Catholic Church see Germany as a saviour against Communism. And there are some even stranger bedfellows, with some mobsters very much on the side of the angels, working against a growing anti-semitism, fostered by the various reactionary alignments.
There is a wonderfully twisting, tense storyline going on, as Gillespie tries to make sense of what he seems to have stumbled into, and discovers the many layers of subterfuge going on. Espionage, political machinations, shady alliances, this is a real page turner.
Okay, there may have been one too many ‘saved from a terrible fate in the nick of time by the arrival of the cavalry’ (and the uniform the cavalry was wearing, was at times remarkably unexpected) but the author must be forgiven, since he doesn’t betray character.
And, at the end, I was absolutely delighted to discover that it very much looks as if there will be more, as the war bites deeper, and, no doubt, machinations in high places from those with a variety of reasons for wanting alliances to be made, or broken, continue