The Death of a Joyce Scholarby Bartholomew Gill
Trinity professor and Joycean scholar Kevin Coyle was one of Dublin's most colorful -- and controversial -- characters, until someone stabbed him through the heart on Bloomsday, the annual citywide celebration honoring Ireland's most beloved literary light. The poetic irony is not lost on Chief Superintendent Peter McGarr: one of the foremost experts on the works
Trinity professor and Joycean scholar Kevin Coyle was one of Dublin's most colorful -- and controversial -- characters, until someone stabbed him through the heart on Bloomsday, the annual citywide celebration honoring Ireland's most beloved literary light. The poetic irony is not lost on Chief Superintendent Peter McGarr: one of the foremost experts on the works of James Joyce was slain on the so-called "Murderers' Ground" made famous in the author's magnum opus Ulysses. But the connection does not end there. And the deeper the intrepid McGarr digs, the more startling truths he uncovers about a victim's dark, licentious history, a list of suspects as vast and varied as the characters in a great novel ... and a motive for murder that can hide as easily in the pages of a classic book as in the twisted passions of a human heart.
Read an Excerpt
The Death of a Joyce Scholar
A Peter McGarr Mystery
It began during an unprecedented period of June heat. After a cold, wild spring that saw force-eleven winds fell ancient beeches and hail showers shatter double-glazed windows, the clouds parted suddenly and bathed an unbelieving Dublin in a strong hot sun.
For the first few days people rejoiced and celebrated. Newspapers reported traffic jams on roads leading to Howth and other nearby beaches, and farmers, ever quick to exploit good weather, worked late into the night making hay with dried grasses. But for those who remained in the city to work, the reaction was different.
By the fourth day they were stunned. Looking up from a telephone or a desk at a sparkling pristine sky, they asked themselves why they had thought late July or early August, when they had arranged to take their holidays, had ever offered better weather. They mused and wandered -- hands in pockets, voices vague -- until the sixth or seventh day, when the collective mood changed from a tentative acceptance of what life might be like in another clime to downright anger that they had chosen badly.
It was then that Peter McGarr, the senior-most civil servant in his section, decided that -- schedule be damned -- he would defer to the elements and to a prerogative of his rank. Just half-century now, he asked himself how many more weeks of sunshine he might be able to enjoy in the tranquility of his back garden. He could remember whole summers of cool breezes and forbidding skies, and with so many of his neighbors and their bands of bawling brats -- God bless them -- having taken to the coasts, he would have virtuallyall of Rathinines or at least Belgrave Square, where he lived, to himself.
At home he took the phone off the hook.
Once he'd made the mistake of leaving his phone number while on holiday in Portugal. He didn't get a moment's peace until he instructed the hotel management to say he'd moved on. In the minds of many of his colleagues and much of the press, McGarr had become so equated with his operation that, though much of substance could and often did occcur during his several yearly absences, little of the reality of those occurrences could be acknowledged without his presence.
It was a dynamic that cut both ways, and from time to time McGarr regretted being perhaps too much the chief operative and too little the chief administrator of his agency. Yes, he had become a kind of institution, and was therefore more secure. But when, as was now the case, the work load increased dramatically with little hope of relief, it was he himself who bore the brunt of public scrutiny, not the bureau.
At his kitchen sink McGarr now filled the kettle and looked out through tall Georgian windows on the green wonder of his garden, burgeoning in the near tropical heat. It was almost as if he could actually see the plants growing; he easily convinced himself -- listening to the flame drum on the bottom of the copper pot -- that the wide, rubbery cabbage leaves that were glistening in the morning sun had actually gained inches since he had last seen them through the lame window only a few hours earlier.
McGarr's house sat on a comer lot in Belgrave Square, a cluster of mainly Georgian row houses that looked out over a small, planted green area which was bounded on two sides by major through streets. Since McGarr's arrival some six years earlier, the neighborhood had declined from shabby genteel to tatty to near-slum before being rescued by several rent moguls who divided the gracious, eighteenth-century spaces into as many as ten tiny studio apartments.
But at least they had repainted crumbling exterior brick and replaced sagging windows and doors. In such a way, Belgrave Square -- unlike some Dublin squares of the same vintage that had been gentrified beyond approachability with new, ornate fanlights and brass nameplates and door knockers -- had remained familiar, accessible and democratic, which was how McGarr preferred things. And if prices declined again, he might plunge in himself and restore at least the dwellings immediately surrounding his own. His wife's picture gallery in Dawson Street had beendoing nicely in recent years, and McGarr did not plan on being a wage slave all his life.
In the basement, the garden rooms of which he had converted to a kind of hothouse, McGarr changed into his work clothes, a pair of patched, twill trousers, an open-neck, short-sleeve shirt, and an old pair of boots heavy enough to punch down the top of a spade. A man a few inches shy of medium height, McGarr was sturdily constructed with firm, once-quick legs and strong arms and shoulders that he kept fit by means of what he called Chinese exercise. By that he meant daily bouts of vigorous, manual labor, usually, as now, in or around his house.
Bald on top, McGarr kept long the light red hair that remained, sweeping it back on the sides of his head so that it curled at the nape of his neck. He now fitted on a worn panama hat. He had a freckled face and a long nose, which had been broken often and was now bent to one side. His eyes were pale gray, and in all, dressed as he was with dried mud on his boots, he looked like a Dublin navvy from the building trades whose specialty was poured concrete.
The meringue on McGarr's boots consisted, however, of aged chicken manure and compost. Combined in the proportion two to one, it was the secret to his garden and such a fillip to growth that his neighbors and the few friends whom he had made privy to his hobby admired his handiwork in terms that he always found distressing. Having dismissed all the standard explanations for digging in the earth from reestablishing touch with his ecology to taking direct part in the cycle of birth, growth, harvest and rebirth, McGarr believed, and insisted, that he gardened for simple pleasure.The Death of a Joyce Scholar
A Peter McGarr Mystery. Copyright © by Bartholomew Gill. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Bartholomew Gill authored 15 Peter McGarr mysteries, among them The Death of an Irish Lover, The Death of an Irish Tinker, and the Edgar Award nominee The Death of a Joyce Scholar. A graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, Gill wrote as Mark McGarrity for the Star-Ledger. He died in 2002.
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