I bought Michael Russell’s “The City of Shadows” as a murder mystery based on the blurb on the cover – “A missing woman. Two mysterious murders. A city shrouded in secrets.” The most relevant of these phrases turned out to be “A city shrouded in secrets.” The book is really about the period immediately prior to World War II in Ireland and also in Danzig, at the time a free city belonging neither to Poland nor to Germany.
A lot of research is required for a book like this, but the advantage of choosing such a recent period is that sources are plentiful and the author is limited only by his time and patience. Russell has done an impressive job in bringing this particular era to life, from the streets of Dublin to Irish farming country to the rise of Nazi sentiment among the ethnic German population of Danzig.
In Ireland, we learn about the swirling political currents of the time and the power of the Catholic church over everything from police investigations to family life, a power that not so many years later we think of only in respect to countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia.
Russell ties all of this together with a plot involving a young Jewish Irish woman who returns to Dublin from Palestine to look for a friend who has disappeared, an Irish policeman, and a priest who tries to avoid the Irish police by finding refuge with the bishop of Danzig. It’s fascinating.