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Crime runs rampant in the ancient, picture-perfect town of Leixleap on Ireland's famed River Shannon. So many thieves have been furtively harvesting the succulent, gourmet-prized and high-priced eels that flourish in the river that there's an Eel Police division whose job is to find and arrest the evildoers. But while poaching may he a matter local lawmen can handle, murder is quite another thing. And when it occurs, a frantic call for help goes out to Dublin and Chief Inspector...
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Crime runs rampant in the ancient, picture-perfect town of Leixleap on Ireland's famed River Shannon. So many thieves have been furtively harvesting the succulent, gourmet-prized and high-priced eels that flourish in the river that there's an Eel Police division whose job is to find and arrest the evildoers. But while poaching may he a matter local lawmen can handle, murder is quite another thing. And when it occurs, a frantic call for help goes out to Dublin and Chief Inspector Peter McGarr.
The call has come from a source Peter doesn't much trust: Tim Tallon, a boyhood acquaintance who was once a tactless bully, but has grown up to become - on the surface, at least - a substantial citizen, thanks to his common-law liaison with a well-heeled Belgian woman. The two now own a luxury inn, joined to a lowbrow pub with hot-sheet accommodations for dirty weekenders and their lecherous like. In one of its beds lies a nude couple, so intimately intertwined that one bullet seemingly killed them both.
She was Eel Policewoman Ellen Gilday: young, pretty, and recently married, but not to her partner in death. He was Pascal Burke, her boss, a divorced womanizer more than twice her age. It seems that their unsavory affair has been going on for months, both before and after her marriage to a highly regarded local lad, Quintan Finn.
McGarr soon finds a witness who may also he a suspect: the charismatic but conniving head bartender, Benny Carson. A former policymaker for the Irish Republican Army, Benny blithely confesses to the double murder as an act of revenge on behalf of the cuckolded Quinton, his nephew. But when McGarr disallows the trickster's "confession," Benny then fingers the infamous Frakes brothers, Manus and Donal, former IRA thugs now employed in eel poaching and various other outside-the-low activities. Benny claims they had involved his hapless nephew in their schemes and done the murders in his behalf.
But once again, nothing is clearcut. What seems to be an unraveling mystery is merely a wad of loose ends. There are unexplained oddities, like the seven-year-old girl prowling outside Tallon's inn with a beeper. The testimony of the maid who found the bodies is hopelessly skewed. And more suspects keep turning up as McGarr finds that the victims might have enraged not only their spouses but also eel fishermen, both legitimate and otherwise, and environmentalists, who have long suspected the two were on the take.
In this clever and beguiling novel, Bartholomew Gill not only creates a stunningly complex puzzle but also gives the reader an authentic look at the charms, the challenges, and the fascinating contradictions that exist in present-day Ireland. The result is a work that is both informative and unfailingly entertaining.
Pulling his car onto the shoulder of the dual carriageway, McGarr peered down into the valley of the Shannon.
Below him stretched a vista that had remained unchanged at least since Ireland had been cleared of its forests in the seventeenth century -- a patchwork of green fields, iridescent under a pale sun and bounded by a web of gray-stone walls.
The pattern stretched in every direction as far as the eye could see, dotted here and there with bright bits of black-and-white cattle that were feeding on the last green grass of the year before being confined to barn or haggard the winter long.
It was fully autumn now, and the smoke of kitchen fires could be seen rising from farmhouse chimneys into the chill air. Down in one low field, a hopeful farmer was disking the land to plant winter wheat in spite of recent snow. A cloud of crows wheeled in the
lee of his, tractor, dlving for the grubs and worms that the bright blades were turning up.
The Shannon itself divided the idyllic scene, as in many ways it did the country, east from west. A wide and sinuous strip of silver, the river had overflowed its banks in places, rushing to the sea. But on a high bluff in a bend of the confluence lay the town that had summoned McGarr. Because of the report of two deaths. "Murdered together in bed," the caller had told him.
Called Leixleap (literally, "Salmon Jump"), it was a collection of no more than three dozen houses around the spires of two churches and a bridge over the river. The ruins of a sixteenth-century castle occupied the highest ground, and there was even the outline of a motte -- an ancient earthenfort-from pre-Christian days when the river had been the main thoroughfare of the Irish Midlands.
Lined with narrow vintage dwellings, Leixleap's old main street traced the river with tour and fishing boats tied along a diked wall. There was even a riverside park -- courtesy of an EU grant, McGarr would bet -- jutting out into the stream. At the bridge, the old cobbled street formed a T with a newer road that was lined with shops that were busy on this, a Saturday.
"It's there you'll find me," the voice had said to McGarr on the phone. "Mine is the biggest, prettiest, and surely the most valuable edifice in town. And it's that that bothers me, Peter."
Sitting in his office in Dublin Castle, where he had been completing paperwork of a quiet Saturday afternoon, McGarr had waited.
Finally, the man had added, "It was done, I'm sure,
to finish me. And it will, without your help. You're my only hope."
McGarr had turned in his chair and looked out the grimy window into Dame Street, which was choked with shoppers and traffic, now as Christmas approached. The ... hubris of the man is what he remembered of Tim Tallon, who had been a schoolyard bully.
Son of a powerful and wealthy judge, he had thumped and punished every smaller boy at the prestigious Christian Brothers Academy in Synge Street. Until he stole from one, who had the courage to tell. And the good brothers had promptly expelled the hulking lad.
That one had been McGarr,. a much younger scholarship student who found Tallon waiting for him after school when McGarr set off for his working-class home in Inchicore. Across Dublin the larger boy had gone at McGarr repeatedly, with the fight broken up mercifully by a publican on one comer, a butcher on another.
That man had whispered in McGarr's car before releasing him, "Now, Red -- I'll give you a running start. If you don't think you can get clear, you're to lay for him with something solid. Go for the knees. Then, stay out of reach."
Good advice and well taken. In an alley off Davit Street, McGarr had surprised Tallon with a length of lumber -- a low blow to the side of one knee. And then, nipping in with short, sharp punches, he had drubbed the larger, slower boy, until yet another charitable adult had finally intervened. On Tallon's behalf.
At home that evening, McGarr's father-smoking a pipe in his easy chair in their diminutive sitting room-had glanced over his newspaper, taking in McGarr's broken nose and black eyes, his torn and bloody school-uniform jacket and trousers, and finally his bruised and scraped knuckles. "Something to say?" be had asked.
McGarr had not.
"Are you right, lad?"
McGarr had nodded.
"And you'll find the money for new gear?" he asked, there being eight others at the time in the family.
Again McGarr had nodded.
"So -- is there anything that needs attending?" He meant, at school.
McGarr shook his head.
Regarding him, his father had smiled, which was a sign of approbation from the unassuming good man who very well understood what growing up in Dublin could be like. "Go in to your mother now. Maybe she can patch that nose."
McGarr had neither seen nor heard from Tim Tallon until the phone call now some forty years later. And with what? Only the report of a double murder, if TalIon could be believed.
"Sure, Peter -- we've been following you and your career in the papers and on the telly for ... how long has it been? Decades. And when we found them dead only a minute or two ago after the maid opened the door to make up the room, well then I says to meself, says I, I'll call Peter. He's an old friend and mighty. He'll handle this thing the way it should be handled. Hush-hush, like.
"Tell you true, we've scrimped and scraped, worked and saved to build this business and--Christ--some-thing like this could ruin us surely. You know how things go."
Posted August 13, 2012
This is one of the later Peter McGarr mysteries. While it has its positives, it was not an entirely satisfying read.
The murder that is the centerpiece of the story is intriguing. An Irish lover - a middle aged, seducer of women - is found shot, apparently while in the midst of one of his escapades, in this case with an unlikely female partner. There are two mysteries. First, who did it; secondly, since both the Irish lover and his partner were killed with a single bullit in the middle of a bedroom, how could someone have snuck up on them and done this.
Per usual for a McGarr mystery, the book is filled with interesting characters, some of whom are part of a long standing McGarr mystery cast. In addition, as mentioned, the crime itself is interesting.
Having read a number of McGarr mysteries, I am always interested in how he mixes in some aspect of Irish culture or history. His books are not only fun, but educational. That, however, was one of my disappointments with this book. The theme for this book is eel poaching on the Shannon (including an IRA connection). There is an interesting chapter on the subject in the middle of the book, but it almost reads like a separate essay. While eel poaching adds a few suspects to the story, it plays little to no role in the murder.
Secondly, the book comes to a rather abrupt end. All of a sudden, McGarr decides who committed the murder and how. The evidence is so slim that the guilty party correctly declares that McGarr has an interesting theory, but it will never hold up in court. Thus, Bartholomew has to invent some other contrivance so that the guilty party can come to justice.
Posted December 9, 2008
<P>The Leixleap Inn owner Tim Tallon calls his childhood acquaintance, Ireland¿s Chief Superintendent Peter McGarr to report a double murder. The victims are two Eel Officers, Ellen Gilday and her superior Pascal Burke. They have been found in an illicit position that defies her recent marriage to a local lad. <P>Peter, as the head of homicide in the country, begins his investigation into the killing of two cops. He quickly realizes that several motives exist. They could be victims of a love crime from either her spouse or one of his string of lovers. They could be victims of an IRA assassination since a questionable confession from a former member provides a clear-cut tie to the group. Finally, there is the economic crime as there is a thriving eel poaching business that the two cops were assigned to control. <P>The fourteenth McGarr mystery is a taut police procedural that shows why the lead character has been a favorite of readers for over two decades. The story line is exciting as the motive for the killings keeps switching based on the latest findings. McGarr remains one of the more endearing fictional detectives as he still retains his wit and intelligence even with the frustrations of a seemingly ever-changing case. Bartholomew Gill proves he still is one of the masters of the Irish mystery without the trite maudlin gushiness that many authors feel is a requirement of a tale set in Ireland. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.