Superintendent Peter McGarr, one of Dublin's senior policemen, is confronted by a lady with a problem. Her husband's gone missing. Why then, instead of going to Missing Persons, has she sought out the Chief of the Murder Squad? It turns out that Kevin Coyle isn't truly "missing". He simply hadn't made it home without assistance. The help was needed because Kevin's heart had taken a knife. And Katie Coyle, with some help, fetched him to his bed. Dublin, however, was suffering an unusual heat wave. The unusual wake would have to close and the murder, after three days, finally be reported. Kevin, it seems "is going off now in the heat"!
This bizarre opening typifies the remainder of a story of a quietly dedicated Dublin copper. Peter McGarr, who starts his office mornings with a strong tot in his coffee, is compelled to deal with Katie Coyle, her unusual cronies, and Kevin Coyle's former role as a "Joyce Scholar". Joyce's magnum opus, "Ulysses", which McGarr pitched into a corner the first time he attempted it, figures large in this story. Not least because one of Coyle's tasks was acting as a "Joyce Tour Guide" for his colleague's tourist business. If the world needs yet another analysis of "Ulysses", Coyle has just completed one. It was to be launched just after he was murdered. Publishers being what they are, the release goes ahead on time, accompanied by the usual fanfare and parties.
McGarr, not being a "private eye", has a team of his own colleagues. Working, as they do, in Dublin provides both flavour and spirit to this narrative. Hughie Ward, a boxer on the side, is a young policeman with ambition. A detective "as soon as was possible", Ward is a notable figure in many ways. But when he slips up, the result is almost as devastating as the figure he cuts. The most interesting member of McGarr's team, however, is its "token" woman. "Rut'ie" Bresnahan is an ample country girl who knows that to rise in the Garda Siochana, she must be better than the men. Since she believes she's better than the men, this should pose no problem. However, her respect for McGarr still leads her to bring his coffee during Squad meetings. Rut'ie is confronted with a string of challenges in proving her worth. How she meets these makes for wonderful reading. Her shopping expedition provides a delightful image of the "new" Dublin compared with Rut'ie's rural origins and the older Ireland they represent. None of Gill's characterisations are flawed. Encountering them is a treat in each circumstance.
The "Ulysses" connection pervades this story, but Gill, a reasonable man, makes no assumptions of his readers. You needn't have read Joyce to follow McGarr as he copes with the many ties between this murder investigation and the classic. In many ways, of course, this story provides a reflection of Joyce's, as Gill intends it to be. Both are, after all, reflections of the Dublin of their time. Gill's superior handling of these ties as we progress through the mystery demonstrate his prose skills and dedicated scholarship. This book might actually prompt me to start Joyce's classic again. If I can find which corner I pitched it into . . . [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]