He went to the sideboard and …took out a biscuit tin with a picture of the Rock of Cashel on the lid. He opened it carefully and looked through the contents [then took out] a picture of a young man of sixteen or seventeen. He wore a dark suit jacket, a white collar that was too big for him, and a striped tie. He wasn’t smiling. There was a similar photograph of Stefan on the wall in the kitchen at Kilranelagh. He had gone to the photographer’s shop in Tullow Street the summer before he started at Trinity College; his mother wanted a photograph of him in the dark suit that looked so much like Vincent Walsh’s. He had sat in the same chair, in front of the same stained sheet in Mr Beard’s studio. Mr Beard would have said the same things and made the same jokes.
Stefan promised he would return the photograph as soon as he could.
observations: I bought this book after reading an enthusiastic review over at Jose Ignacio Scribano’s great blog, The Game’s Afoot. It’s a historical crime novel, set in Ireland in the 1930s, with a section set in what was then the Free City of Gdansk.
The story follows a young policeman, Stefan, as he tries to find out what happened to a young woman and, in an apparently separate strand, the young man in the photo above. The plot takes in the Catholic church, convents, illegal abortionists, and the rise of Hitler in Germany along with some corresponding fascism in Ireland.
Overall I liked it very much, though I got a bit bogged down in the middle and think the book could be a bit shorter. But it is very well-written – I loved this description of Hannah, the Jewish woman who has gone to live in Palestine:
Lying in Stefan’s bed that morning, before he woke up, listening to the sounds of Dublin outside, she knew how much this was still her city… She listened to Dublin, rattling and clattering and cursing beyond the window of the scruffy room in Nassau Street.The information about Gdansk was a revelation – I can’t be the only person who knew nothing about this historical anomaly, and the Irish diplomat and Bishop who were so important there. But still, I thought the protagonists had one too many adventures in Gdansk.
But the final section was enthralling, and this is one of many moments that linger in the mind:
And sometimes we’d stay over. She’d read to us, stories like. She was the only one ever read a story to me. It was a little room at the top of the house. The best bed I ever slept in. If I’m home there’s never a night I don’t read to my kids. You know what’s daft? They can read better than me. They pretend they can’t but they show me up.’ He laughed but as he spoke the words he said them with pride.So thanks to Jose Ignacio for the tipoff, and I would certainly read another in this new series.
The picture is from the National Library of Ireland, who have a really wonderful collection of photos online.