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Interesting Times
by I. M. Owen

LAST SPRING, running my eyes along the Mystery shelves of one of my local bookshops and failing to find anything new by any of the writers I regularly follow, I took a chance on a first novel I'd never heard of, A Stone of the Heart' (1988) by John Brady. Its quality was astonishing; so when, a few days after finishing it, I found a copy of Brady's second novel, Unholy Ground, in, the Books in Canada office, I naturally made off with it. I've now read the two books three times, and as A Stone of the Heart seems to have slipped through Books in Canada's First Novels net this will really be a review of them both.

John Brady lives near Toronto now, but he is a Dubliner who writes about Dublin. His hero, Matt Minogue, isn't a Dubliner but a "bogman" from County Clare. However, he is a detective sergeant in the Dublin Garda; he hates Dublin but loves his Dubliner wife and two children. We first meet him ? in or about 1980, we gather ? when he has lately 'emerged from a long spell in hospital recovering from the effects of having been standing a few feet away when the British ambassador was blown up. His friend and superior, Inspector Jimmy Kilmartin, assigns him to the investigation of the murder of a Trinity College student perhaps, Minogue thinks, because "they want to see if I'm the full round of the clock still."

The murder of an inoffensive youth seems at first motiveless, but the investigation leads Minogue deep into the conspiratorial, arms?smuggling underside of what he calls "this hate?filled little island." It comes to a climax with a race for the border of Northern Ireland between a police helicopter and a car bearing both a lethal cargo and another innocent and engaging young person.

What Brady does in both books is to marry two genres, the police procedural and the spy story ? a combination admirably suited to Ireland. In Unholy Ground the victim of murder is an elderly Englishman who has come fairly recently to live in a village outside Dublin. Again there seems at first?to be no motive. But because the author uses the omniscient?narrator technique the reader realizes well before the Garda can that part of the answer lies in London and in the unacknowledged but bitter rivalry between M15 and M16. The climax, inevitable yet unforeseeable, is too startling for a reviewer to hint at even guardedly.

But it is Matt Minogue, moving modestly among a host of equally well?drawn characters, who makes these books so eminently worth the reader's while. If Brady keeps this up, Minogue will become as significant a figure in detective literature as?the melancholy Swede Martin Beck and the jaunty Dutchman Piet van der Valk ? indeed, he has some of the qualities of both. On. the day he leaves the hospital he makes a list of 183 resolutions, among them: "4. 1 will not hate my brother Mick for supporting the IRA. . . . 136. 1 will live in Dublin as long as Kathleen wants to. 147. 1 will not treat young people as upstarts. 160. 1 will learn to play Ravel's Pavane on the piano."

Minogue's Ireland, too, becomes solidly real to us. He can recognize the counties of origin of all the Irish people he meets from their distinctive pronunciation and idiom in either English or Gaelic And his meditations on the state of the country are always. pointed and never longwinded. I regret only that the author started him out at the age of 52 and then put a gap of two or three years between the events of the first and second books. At this rate Brady, who is only 34 himself, will have to retire him all too soon. Or will he in later books tell us of some of his earlier adventures?

Everyone is wondering what the spy?writers will do if glasnost is maintained. The Russian master Julian Semyonov has announced that he is switching his subject?matter to organized crime, which is apparently making good headway in the Soviet Union along with other blessings of western society. Another solution is to turn to the smaller but deadly conflicts in other parts of the world, and Brady shows us that Ireland is a rich source of material and likely to be so for a long time to come. It would be better if the killing stopped, of course. But the Irish are pre?eminent victims of the well?known curse of living in interesting times.

Brady writes fine, compelling, often beautiful prose that deserves better copy?editing than it has received. A copy?editor is someone who knows that "malinger" is not a synonym for "linger," and that there are no firms of barristers and solicitors in England. Novelists, who know more important things, such as how to create, need this kind of pedestrian assistance.


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