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The Grateful Water by Juliana Adelman: A compelling, vivid and provocative novel

Women suffer while men escape accountability for their misdeeds in this atmospheric portrayal of 19th-century Dublin

The Grateful Water
Author: Juliana Adelman
ISBN-13: 978-1848409248
Publisher: New Island Books
Guideline Price: €16.95

An infant’s body in the Liffey mud; a genteel young woman trapped by the conventions of her class and upbringing; an artisan couple struggling to maintain a business and a marriage; a backstreet trade in the disposal of unwanted babies; a Dublin Castle detective who is blighted in love and unappreciated by his superiors: such are the principal elements in Juliana Adelman’s atmospherically charged novel, narrating crime, society and the trials of the human condition in 19th-century Dublin.

Adelman weaves a compelling tale in this latest contribution to the growing corpus of crime fiction set in a city of social contrasts and political tensions. We view Victorian Dublin society through four sets of eyes; Anne, institutionalised and unhappy in the decaying comfort of her aunt’s house in Mountjoy Square; Denis, the simple butcher from North Earl Street; Rose, his clever but troubled wife; and Peakin, the G Division detective who is denied the promotion and the modest financial comfort he desperately seeks.

The investigation of the crime takes a definite second place to the social narrative. Peakin is not a particularly convincing or impressive sleuth. Any progress he makes towards solving the baby’s killing owes more to coincidence than good detective work. The primary theme is the repression and exploitation of women in a male-dominated society. The women suffer while men escape accountability for their misdeeds. The balance of moral authority is almost wholly with the women who are resourceful and smart, struggling to resist the repression to which they are condemned. The men, Peakin included, are not greatly to be admired, secure in the privileges of their gender and their positions in society.

Some minor historical solecisms occur. There was no Pearse Street until 1924. In 1865, it was Great Brunswick Street. The G-Division was based at Exchange Court, not Exchequer Court. No verdict of “innocent by virtue of insanity” has ever existed in Irish law. They could cause mild irritation to the purist, but they do not take significantly from a compelling, vivid and provocative novel.


Conor Brady is author of the Joe Swallow detective novels, set in Victorian Dublin. He is a former editor of The Irish Times

Conor Brady

Conor Brady

Conor Brady is a former editor of The Irish Times