Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The City of Strangers - Michael Russell - Author Guest Post

I am delighted to feature a guest post by author Michael Russell! 

Michael's new novel, The City of Strangers, is the second to feature Irish detective Stefan Gillespie, and is published by Avon on November 7th 2013.

Author guest post by Michael Russell


‘The Yankee Clipper was approaching New York. Stefan saw something, the top of a building… then the city, looking down to Manhattan from the East River. It was exactly as he had imagined it, yet breathtakingly like nothing he could ever have imagined.’

Chandler’s Los Angeles and Hammett’s (and others’) New York are two cities that dominate 20th century crime fiction. But if Los Angeles has the greatest writer, New York has something else. More than any city it defines the 20th century. For most of that century it was the most exciting city on earth, especially in the 30s and 40s. No city even looked like it. Someone said there was one other city as exciting in 3000 years of western history, 4th century BC Athens, but without skyscrapers, movies, jazz, air conditioning, or detective fiction (the only literary genre the Greeks didn’t invent?) – it’s no contest!

My first story about Irish detective Stefan Gillespie, set in Ireland and Danzig in 1935, was about the kind of killings that come out of the darkness that takes hold of ordinary people, but it took Gillespie close to darker events too, the rise of Nazism. I wanted to write a series using the same kind of tale to spin good yarns and to explore Ireland and its compromised ‘neutrality’ in the years before World War II, and during the war itself. I also wanted to ‘visit’ cities playing a role in the war, including neutral ones like New York (initially) and Lisbon. So New York was next when I wrote The City of Strangers.

Everybody falls in love with New York. As Milos Forman said, ‘I get out of a New York taxi and it’s the only city where reality looks better than the postcards’. But the first time I visited New York I was surprised not by how much ‘now’ was around me, but how much of the whole 20th century. Walking the city - Manhattan isn’t so big you can’t just do that and be absorbed by its mixture of grime, chaos, wonder - you don’t need a gallery to see the art of the 20th century, just look up. Writing a novel partly set in New York in 1939 was irresistible. So many things came together. Most importantly the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows; a sprawling, majestic vision of the World of Tomorrow, of democracy, plenty, life-enhancing technology, and hope for humanity. Almost every country on earth was there, though many were still colonial territories, but the great absentee was Germany. Within a year the only existence some countries had was a pavilion at the Fair; Czechoslovakia and Poland were gone. There was another vision. It wasn’t a fairground. It was about to plunge Europe and much of the world into the dark.

And that darkness was already in New York, despite its energy, despite the World’s Fair. When Garda Sergeant Gillespie arrives to bring a suspected murderer back to Dublin, he finds what he left behind has followed him. In Times Square American fascists fight anti-fascists in the street. Arguments about American neutrality and isolationism seem arguments about which side you’re going to be ‘neutral’ on. But it comes closer to home for Stefan. Some Irish-Americans, like some in Ireland, see war as an opportunity to rid Ireland of Britain for good. IRA plans for cooperation with the Nazis are hatched in New York as in Dublin. If Stefan thinks he’s a long way from what’s going on at home, the dead body of an old friend soon tells him otherwise. And when he offers to help an Irish woman who is in trouble as a result, he finds himself mired in unlooked for danger.

The story takes Stefan home before that danger is faced. On the way it follows him through Manhattan and Long Island, upstate to Lake Ontario and Canada. New York in 1939 is worth visiting. The City of Strangers is one way to get there. Don’t forget Duke Ellington is playing Small’s Paradise in Harlem, and watch for falling bodies if you’re heading to 7th Avenue on West 59th. When I started writing about New York in 1939 I had three things in my head: Duke Ellington playing Caravan; a newsreel of the NYPD marching in the St Patrick’s Day Parade; the island of Manhattan seen from a Yankee Clipper that had flown from Ireland. That’s often how stories start. Not always character and plot, but a place, an image, a memory. Small things you can’t get out of your head.

The next Stefan Gillespie novel will be set in 1940. It starts with Stefan investigating a seemingly motiveless murder in the Wicklow Mountains that leads him to discover that the accidental death of his wife Maeve eight years ago was murder too. It’s something that is going to turn his life upside down. The search for the killer will take him to the edge of the war in Europe, to the neutral city of Lisbon, packed with refugees escaping the carnage to come; to Franco’s Spain where a dying Irish International Brigade officer is still imprisoned; and to bitter retribution in England, as the Battle of Britain begins.


Many thanks to Michael Russell for this wonderful guest post.

The first novel featuring Stefan Gillespie is called The City of Shadows, published by Avon

Find The City of Strangers on amazon here


  1. with its mix of the historical and the criminal this is a series of books I'll have to check out.

    1. Thanks for commenting Tracy. I feel the same way, looking forward to catching up with this series too.

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  3. Lins I had 3 windows open and replied in this one to another blogs review, have deleted it! I hadn't read the first book but got this as a ARC. I only gave it 2/5 because I had to keep reading up around the history which, my fault entirely, took a lot away from the story for me. I think he has a strng style of writing though and nice to read the interview.


    1. No probs Lainy! :) Thanks for commenting and reading the post. Good to hear your perspective on this one and I look forward to reading it too.

  4. Thank you for sharing this post with us..
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  5. I've just read Michael Russell's first novel (I think it's his first anyway) The City of Shadows - which he mentions in his post above. It's excellent.

    If you like Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther thrillers, you may like Michael Russell's too. I do and I do.

    So this follow up - the City of Strangers - looks good too. I'll be reading it.


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