During the Second World War, Ireland was officially neutral. But, shockingly, its proximity to the British mainland had made it an attractive pre-war base for Nazi Party officials, some of whom found a ready ear for hatred of the Jews among the priestocracy of the Irish Free State.
In Michael Russell’s debut novel, he has taken this promising cauldron and mixed it with the story of a Jewish woman courier for the Palestinian Zionists of pre-state Israel.
Russell’s resourceful and likeable hero, Detective Stefan Gillespie, is an archetypal outsider: a Protestant among Catholics, a widower among the Dublin smug-marrieds. It is 1934 and the casual racism against Protestants and Jews alike ought not to shock the 21st-century reader, but it does.
Hannah Rosen has come to Dublin to find out what happened to her friend Susan, a Jewish woman who disappeared after a disastrous love affair with a Catholic priest. Gillespie, meanwhile, is being threatened with the removal of his five-year-old son by a vituperative priest apparently worried about the child’s eternal soul.
Reading this book with the knowledge of the remorseless child sex abuse perpetrated by some of Ireland’s clergy, adds a perhaps unintended dimension.
In action moving from Dublin to Danzig, Gillespie and Rosen evade priests and Nazis alike. Russell has drawn on real-life Irish characters whose decent behaviour in the face of the impending Holocaust has been sadly lost over the years. This book has triumphantly revived their reputation.