Book Review

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Love You Dead, by Peter James

Things have moved on for Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, since his situation in the previous story I reviewed, here: he has married the woman, Cleo, he met during the course of his work, and they now have a baby son, Noah. His previous wife Sandy has, in the meantime, been declared dead, after disappearing without a word when they seemed, to all outward appearances, to be mutually happy. Unfortunately, Grace now learns that Sandy is still alive, and he is only too aware of the consequences to his current relationship, if she were to say that she wanted to return to him. He is still working with Glenn Branson, who is now an Inspector; for him, however, the intervening years have not brought a happy turn of events in his home life: he was divorced from his wife, who died, subsequently.

Grace’s current concern, professionally, is the hunt for a serial killer, Dr Edward Crisp, who has murdered five, or possibly more—still to be established—young women. He made a miraculous escape when he was cornered in an underground lair, and in the process shooting Grace in the leg with a shotgun, an injury from which he has only recently returned to work after a lengthy & painful recuperation. While Grace is considering his options on this case, another serial killer, a woman whose current name is Jodie Bentley, begins to operate from a base on Grace’s ‘turf’: she targets rich, older men and disposes of them as quickly, neatly and, ideally, as untraceably as possible; naturally, she soon acquires the sobriquet “the Black Widow”.

There is also a third strand to this story: an American contract killer, known as “Tooth”, although he also, like the Black Widow, uses a variety of aliases. Tooth is already known to Grace’s team, because he made a seemingly impossible escape when he had been identified by them, and dived into Brighton harbour, after a desperate struggle with Glenn. Tooth later accepts a contract to return to Brighton to hunt for Bentley, after she steals a large sum of money and, more significantly, a memory stick, from a mobster based in Las Vegas, but in the pay of the Russian mafia, who tries to rape her in his hotel room. All this would be grist to Grace’s mill, were it not for the fact that his superior officer treats him with undisguised disdain, and makes it abundantly clear that Grace’s career is hanging by a thread—for reasons which are not immediately apparent, so it is possible that this could be the result of circumstances occurring in a previous story.

The ending contains a neat little twist which, with hindsight, could have been predicted, but it does work well, and it provides relief from a little scare, where one character is concerned; all the loose ends are nicely tied up though. Having now read two episodes of the Roy Grace genre, written by this author, I can add him to my notional list of names to watch out for whenever I visit the library, because the stories are well constructed, with believable characters and accurate police procedures, and engaging to read, because the action moves at a decent pace without becoming overwhelming. This latest book is available in paperback from Pan Books, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, London, and was published in 2016, ISBN 978-1-4472-5589-5.

Book Review

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Arrowood and the Meeting House Murders, by Mick Finlay

I don’t generally make a point of reading Victorian [or other historical eras, for that matter] detective stories in preference to contemporary ones, as they have stiff competition, even to this day, from Conan Doyle, but if one looks interesting, I am certainly willing to give it a try. This book appears to be the fourth in a series about these characters, private [note: not “consulting”] detectives, William Arrowood and his partner, Norman Barnett, and in a slightly cheeky, ‘wink-wink’, gesture, the irrevocably famous pinnacle of the detecting genre of this period is mentioned by name in the story by Arrowood himself, and described  in somewhat ungracious terms as a rather arrogant, self-satisfied and not necessarily a great deal more competent competitor; on the evidence of my first outing for this character, I’m not entirely convinced that this assessment is well-founded.

I hate to have to say it, but I found this a rather stodgy read, for a variety of reasons. The story is narrated by Barnett and, to emphasise that he is a member of the working class and not highly educated, his grammar is colloquial, to say the least—to quote Finlay himself, from the historical notes section & bibliography at the end of the book: “a white man born in the slums of Bermondsey. As such, the story is filtered through his perceptions and understandings.” As a narrative device, I don’t have any ideological objection to this, but I did find it somewhat wearing before the end of the book. Plus, several words are used by different characters which are not specifically anachronisms: just unfamiliar, and there is no glossary to enlighten the floundering reader. Finally, notwithstanding that it is one of my pet banes, I don’t know if “stomp” was in common parlance in late 19th century England. In his favour, it’s obvious that Finlay has done assiduous research on the period, and he does make his main character demonstrably fair-minded & accommodating in his dealings with refugees from Britain’s imperial ‘benevolence’, specifically in south Africa.

I can’t say a lot about the plot, because after the initial murders, at a Quaker meeting house, there are several developments which move the narrative along, albeit slowly, but to reveal any of them now would rather spoil the story. Arrowood is not brought in to assist the legitimate police, as is generally the case with private detectives: in fact, he & Barnett are only barely tolerated by Detective Inspector Napper of Scotland Yard, who is stereotypically plodding & prone to arriving at hasty solutions, but his rapport with Barnett does seem slightly more accommodating than that with Arrowood; also, of the two, Barnett is not the junior partner when it comes to detection, and his attitude toward his notional employer could occasionally be described as insubordinate, although, to be fair, Arrowood has his fair share of problems distracting him.

The drudgery & often visceral misery of life for London’s Victorian poor is well realised, so although this is clearly fiction, the reader can feel reasonably assured that this is Victorian life at its most authentically odoriferous, and the paperback version I read, published by HQ, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, London, in 2021, ISBN 978-0-00-832455-1, also has a very well known image on the front cover, in suitably dark monochromatic tones, that of a curving row of cramped back-to-back houses, with a narrow passage between the yards, leading to a viaduct over which a smoky locomotive is passing. The perpetrator is finally found, and Napper does at least have the good grace to concede that Arrowood & Barnett’s help was instrumental in this achievement.

Book Review

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Dead Simple, by Peter James

I wasn’t very far into this story, before it started feeling very familiar; I hadn’t read this book previously [normally the machine at the library will inform me if I’ve taken a particular book out before, although whether that will apply in the case of a different format, I don’t know], then I gradually started recollecting images from a television dramatisation. To pre-empt the review somewhat, I know the detective in the TV drama wasn’t one of the best-known ones, but I can’t for the life of me think who played the protagonist, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace: strange. Also, the televisual ending & possibly some elements of the narrative were different, but that is by no means unusual, for reasons best known to TV people.

According to the rear-cover blurb, this is touted as being this character’s first major case, which seems slightly implausible, given his rank, albeit newly acquired; and that there are at least eight other novels with “Dead” in the title, explicitly or presumably featuring the same character; also, not that I am any sort of expert on police procedures, but I don’t know how usual it is for a Superintendent to be SIO [Senior Investigating Officer] on a missing persons enquiry although, to be fair, he is initially working on the case in an advisory capacity at the invitation of an erstwhile colleague, Sergeant Glenn Branson, and he sees it as a welcome diversion from the cold cases he has been assigned, given his experience in the new rank, and a murder trial he is involved with, which is not only not guaranteed to succeed, but is also the source of plenty of ridicule because Grace is known for consulting mediums and other purveyors of unconventional methods, and it is reiterated, much to Grace’s chagrin, during the trial.

The missing person is Michael Harrison who, according to his distraught fiancée Ashley Harper, has disappeared during his stag night. We already know where the putative groom is: he is initially very drunk and buried in a makeshift grave somewhere in a forest in the Brighton area, in a coffin borrowed from work by one of the stag night attendees. Unfortunately, before the sinister prank can be brought to its conclusion, the van which had transported the coffin & the other carousers to the burial site is involved in a head-on collision immediately afterwards, and all but one of the occupants are killed instantly; the only survivor dies soon afterwards. So, the ultimate claustrophobic’s nightmare: buried alive, and no response initially from the walkie-talkie he was left with; neither does he have any mobile signal. From this point forwards, the race is on for Grace & Branson to locate Harrison before he dies in his appropriate location. One of the stag night attendees; Michael’s best man, and business partner, in fact; didn’t make the event, because his return flight was delayed. Understandably, he is relieved to still be alive, given the circumstances, but before long, Grace begins to suspect that there is more to his remorse than meets the eye, and that Ashley might not be quite as distraught as she would like people to believe.

Despite knowing its premise beforehand, I enjoyed reading this story, and the change of ending didn’t bother me at all: the villain of the piece, and the way the narrative was structured were very plausible, so I look forward to reading more by this author—I already have one more lined up! This paperback was published by Pan Books, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, London, in 2019 [2005], ISBN 978-1-5098-9882-4.

Book Review

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La Belle Sauvage [The Book of Dust, Volume One], by Philip Pullman

The Belle Sauvage in the book’s title is a canoe, owned by the hero [a designation which can be given without reservation, which the book will reveal], Malcolm Polstead; interestingly, I don’t remember reading how the canoe acquired that name: perhaps this will be revealed in the next instalment of the trilogy, for this book is the first of three which form a prequel to the highly successful His Dark Materials trilogy [HDM] by the same author. They are ostensibly children’s books, but many adults [of which I am not ashamed to admit I am one] have also read & enjoyed them: I like to think that they broadened my daughters’ minds, for they are both avid readers. Philip Pullman is acknowledged to be an important modern critical thinker, and his books have won awards too numerous to mention, including the Whitbread Book of the Year Award for The Amber Spyglass, the third in HDM: the first time that award has been given to a children’s book; the trilogy has also been translated to the big screen—debatably successfully—and to television, by the BBC, much more accurately and, consequently, successfully.

Given that, as previously stated, this is a prequel, some of the characters & locations will be known to those familiar with the alternate world which Pullman has created. The timeframe is now, approximately, and the setting initially Britain; specifically Oxford & its environs; but the technology is slightly different; or, at least, its terminology is: there are Zeppelins for long-distance air travel, but also gyrocopters, and there does appear to be internal combustion available for small vehicles, but electrical power is referred to as anbaric. Not Steampunk specifically, but different enough to be noticeable: if you accept the concept of parallel or adjacent universes, this one is only one or two steps removed. The main protagonist in HDM, a young girl named Lyra, is here introduced to us as a baby, who is entrusted to the care of nuns at a nearby priory, Godstow, because she is in need of special protection: primarily from the ruling religious authorities, which exert a near-total control over the country’s moral development. This is a relatively recent manifestation, but the observance of Christianity is now being inexorably enforced; one of the aspirations of the authorities in this mission is the suppression of research into any areas of science which might contradict Christian dogma.

Lyra’s parents are either unable, or unwilling to participate in her upbringing, but they are both aware of her potential to upset what is regarded by the authorities as the natural order; there is no risk of plot spoilers for new readers of HDM, because this parentage is revealed quite early in the trilogy. Her father is Lord Asriel, a rich explorer who is convinced that there is some unifying force which can explain the functioning of the universe, and he is relentlessly searching for it: a quest which he knows cannot include a baby, however much he might like to spend time with her. Lyra’s mother, however, has no maternal instincts, but she has been made aware of Lyra’s potential, so she sets out to reclaim the child. Mrs Coulter’s husband was killed by Lord Asriel, but the circumstances were such that the latter was not held responsible for the death, so he is free to pursue his quest.

Eleven-year-old Malcolm, the son of the proprietors of The Trout pub in Port Meadow, a village three miles outside Oxford, opposite the priory by the Thames, helps out at the priory, as well as working for his parents. He learns about the arrival of Lyra, and is instantly smitten: this might seem strange for a young boy, but he is obviously sensitive, as well as being very practical. One aspect of this world hitherto unmentioned is that all human beings have physical familiars of the opposite gender, referred to as dæmons: they serve many functions, but they always stay in close proximity to their owners, primarily because physical separation is painful. Children’s dæmons can take any form, albeit youthful, until they become fixed; after puberty, if I remember correctly. Malcolm’s dæmon, Asta, forms an instant rapport with Pantaleimon, Lyra’s dæmon, which is helpful for the later events. The action of the narrative is Malcolm’s escape from Port Meadow when a disastrous flood [whose proportions could be described, ironically, as biblical] destroys the priory and threatens Lyra’s safety, so he decides to head for London to find Lord Asriel, taking with him Alice, a fifteen-year-old girl who also works for Malcolm’s parents.

Luckily for the three passengers, La Belle Sauvage has been upgraded somewhat after Malcolm lent it to Lord Asriel for a few days, so it is better able to withstand the foul weather & onslaught of not only the flood on its journey, but also the trio’s pursuers. Although this first volume is 546 pages [and this makes a heavy hardback, not ideally conducive to bedtime reading!] it is very easy to read: not only because the prose is well written, but also because the font & line-spacing is just right for the page size. This hardback was published in 2017 by David Fickling Books, Oxford, in association with Penguin Books, London, ISBN 978-0-385-60441-3 [a trade paperback is also available, ISBN 978-0-857-56108-4]. Admittedly, this type of material might not be to everybody’s taste, but this is one of the few fantasy genres I can accommodate, so I will certainly be keeping my eyes open for the next book in this trilogy.

Recognition!

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My Blog’s won an award!

My regular readers might like to know that this blog has been awarded the accolade of Top Writing Blog, by the QueryLetter.com site; apparently, people there regularly spend a lot of time reading top writing blogs, and they have selected Wilfred Books for a Top Writing Blog award! According to the email which informed me of this:

Congratulations on building one of the best writing blogs available today and for helping writers improve their craft.

Lana, at QueryLetter.com

Now, realistically, I know that this is a commercial site, and I am normally wary of promoting such sites on this blog, but after some consideration, I am happy for anyone who reads my blog and who is thinking about trying to get some writing published to a wider audience, should have a starting point for this research. Having self-published my own book, Black Shirt and Smoking Beagles, I know full well that publishing is not an easy undertaking, so it is worth considering all options, and it might cost less than you think: it always makes sense to shop around, of course. So, when you read the posts on this blog, and you see the new icon at the top of the sidebar, you’ll know what it’s about, and if you want to learn more, click on the icon to go to the QueryLetter.com site & investigate!

Book Review

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A Question of Blood, by Ian Rankin

This is one of Rankin’s books that have been dramatised for television which I have seen, albeit some months ago now: it was not in the first series, with John Hannah playing the rôle of John Rebus, and with no disrespect intended to Hannah, he never quite seemed comfortable playing the part to me, whereas Ken Stott was a much better fit, with his lived-in face & sardonic personality. I only remember some of the details of the TV version, although I have a feeling that the story was changed in some respects; but I digress. It was enjoyable being able to visualise the faces of Rebus and his sidekick DS Siobhan Clarke as the actors playing them: lazy perhaps, but it makes the story seem somehow more real.

Rebus is under investigation, although still working, following the death in a fire of a local small-scale criminal who had been stalking DS Clarke, and had even struck her during one encounter; Rebus was, ostensibly, the last person to see the man alive and, coincidentally, his hands are bandaged at the beginning of the story: his story, to which he is sticking, is that his hands were scalded, not burnt: the primary difficulty is that Rebus was intoxicated [not an unusual occurrence, it must be said] when he returned home, so he remembers little of the conclusion of the evening. He is expecting to be called in for an interview any time soon, but in the meantime, he is asked by an erstwhile colleague, DI Bobby Hogan, to assist him in investigating what drove an ex-army man to murder two male pupils at one of the local private schools, wound another, then turn the gun on himself. In Rebus’s words: “…there’s no mystery … except the why”. Unfortunately, it transpires that one of the victims was a blood relative: hence one explanation for the title of the book.

There is a very useful introduction at the beginning of the book which, in addition to giving background information on a couple of the peripheral characters found in the story, also explains a possibly less well-known fact about Edinburgh: “Around a quarter of all high-school pupils in the city attend fee-paying institutions — a much higher percentage than any other city in Scotland (and maybe even the UK).…I already had it in mind that my next book would discuss the theme of the outsider.” In this observation, he also includes his protagonist: “Rebus is a perennial outsider, of course, incapable of working as part of a cohesive team.” Another connection to the perpetrator of the school murders, which proves to be useful as the narrative progresses, is that Rebus has an armed forces background: the shooter, Lee Herdman, was ex-SAS; Rebus failed the ‘psychEval’ for this elite unit, and suffered a mental breakdown as a consequence, so he is very conscious of the effects of combat on serving soldiers.

Of course, Rebus doesn’t accept the official explanation for this terrible event, nor the discovery of a significant quantity of narcotics on one of Herdman’s boats by two investigators who are clearly with the armed forces, and prove to be a thorn in Rebus’s side during the investigation. Rebus’s scepticism proves to be well-founded, and the explanation for the train of events is one which takes nearly everybody by surprise. The narrative is nicely paced, and we learn enough about John Rebus to be able to understand him that bit better; there is also Rankin’s trademark catholic taste in music in evidence in Rebus’s choice of listening. The book was first published in Britain in 2003 by Orion Books, London; it was reissued in 2012, and the paperback version I read, ISBN 978-0-7528-8366-3, was published in 2004.

Book Review

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Blackout, by Simon Scarrow

This is a book which, in my humble opinion, does live up to its hype, with reviews from Anthony Horowitz & Damien Lewis, no less. It could be seen as an analogue of SS-GB, by Len Deighton; although the main difference, apart from the location, is that the former is set in the real world, albeit a fictional protagonist, whereas the latter is set in the imagined ‘alternate reality’ of a Britain conquered by Germany in 1940. This book is one of a numerous series of books on the subject of conflict and/or warfare in different timeframes by this author: he has also co-authored with Lee Francis & T J Andrews. The protagonist in Blackout, published in 2021 by Headline Publishing Group, ISBN 978-1-4722-5856-4 [paperback], is Criminal Inspector Horst Schenke of the Kripo [Kriminalpolizei]; Scarrow uses British terminology wherever possible, even down to the inexorably ubiquitous Nazi Party salutation “Hail Hitler”, but since there are few direct equivalents of military ranks, Scarrow does use the German terms.

It is December 1939 in Berlin, which is a sensible timeframe for a murder thriller story set there, because the country is now at war, with all the consequent exigencies & paranoia, but it is before the shock & physical effects of an Allied fightback started to appear; whether Scarrow has one or more sequels in mind as the war progresses is not indicated. Schenke has avoided military service, to his shame, because he has a permanently injured knee, courtesy of an accident during his former career as a driver for the prestigious Silver Arrows Mercedes-Benz racing team: he was lucky to survive the crash, but it left him with a game leg. He is, however, a diligent & moderately successful police officer, and he is “requested” by Heinrich Müller, the head of the Gestapo [Geheime Staatspolizei, State secret police] to investigate the death of Gerda Korzeny, aka Gerda Schnee, a once-famous actress whose career ended somewhat abruptly when she married a rich Berlin lawyer. Schenke is confused as to why he has been conscripted in this way, because the death did not occur in his area; however, he has so far resisted pressure to join the Party, which has been assuming ever more influence over all aspects of German life, including the police, and he quickly realises that, as well as having no obvious allegiance to any of the fractious factions which Hitler’s system has produced, he could be a very convenient fall guy if he discovers anything the Party deems inconvenient.

Schenke is initially unamused to be assigned an “assistant”, who just happens to be an SS Scharführer [sergeant] by Müller, and he sees it as an obvious device to keep tabs on him & his investigation [the officer’s name is Liebwitz, which I think is a nice little in-joke for German speakers, as the young officer has no sense of humour]; however, on reflection, Schenk realises that this could actually be an advantage, given the clout that even a sergeant in the Gestapo with SS accreditation can wield; he also shows assiduous diligence in his work. Also, Müller gives Schenk a letter of authority, which proves to be useful a few times. When another woman is murdered in almost identical circumstances, Schenk begins to wonder if, perhaps, this isn’t an investigation of one murder which could prove to be uncomfortably sensitive but, instead, one of a series by a psychopathic killer willing to take advantage of the wartime blackouts; further investigation by one of Schenk’s team suggests that this could, indeed, be the case… This is as much as I can reveal without spoiling the plot, but the tension as the investigation nears its conclusion is very well built, and the dénouement is very plausible, so if you enjoy a thriller with a wartime historical context, I can heartily recommend this book, and I would not be sorry to see a sequel.

Book Review

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The Mitford Trial, by Jessica Fellowes

When I saw the name Mitford in the title of this book, my mind immediately suggested a connection with Oswald Mosley, who was a very prominent personality in my book Black Shirt and Smoking Beagles, the biography of my grand uncle Wilfred Risdon, who worked closely with OM from 1930 until just before the start of the second world war. This book being reviewed is actually one of a series by this author, featuring the Mitford family, but this particular one does have a tangential connection with Mosley, hence my interest was piqued. If the author’s family name is familiar, it is because she is the niece of the author Julian Fellowes, who created, according to Ms Fellowes’s website, the television series Downton Abbey, with which many people [not including me, however, for ideological reasons] will be familiar; although how many of these would be able to name the writer is another matter. Without wishing to cast any aspersions, the success of the television production was very useful for Ms Fellowes, as she has written five “official companion books”. The first book in the Mitford series, The Mitford Murders, was her tenth book, and the book under review here is her fifth Mitford book. From the information given on her website, it would appear that the lady is very much part of the upper classes so, presumably, she knows of what she writes.

This also begs another question—how close is her relationship with the Mitford family, because it might be considered incautious to write about the albeit avowedly fictional exploits of a real family, without some sort of dispensation, especially as a family such as this might tend toward the litigious if its reputation should be impugned, notwithstanding real & documented historical events. This closeness or otherwise is not stated, so can only be guessed at. In this story, former lady’s maid Louisa Cannon is asked to spy on Diana Mitford; who later went on to marry Oswald Mosley, despite his known philandering; and her younger sister Unity, a fervent supporter of Hitler from around the time of his accession to the post of Chancellor in Germany. This spying is to take place on a cruise to Italy, and Louisa is unenthusiastic about the idea, especially as the man who persuades her to do it, “Iain”, is not prepared to reveal for whom he is working [but it is probably fairly safe to assume that it must be MI5]; his only ammunition for expecting her to comply is to play on her patriotism, telling her bluntly that Germany is preparing for war, which must be prevented at all costs, and the Mitfords’ possible knowledge of, and connection with these preparations could be vital to the British government. Despite having only just married a detective sergeant with Scotland Yard, the excitement she feels at being asked to undertake this underhand mission overrules her misgivings, especially as she is exhorted to reveal nothing of her task to her new husband.

The narrative appears to be historically accurate; I would have been surprised if it had not been; there are precious few direct references to Mosley’s political activities, but one is right at the beginning of the book, on Louisa’s wedding day: a rally at Trafalgar Square on the 15th of October 1932, only a couple of weeks after the founding of the British Union of Fascists at the former New Party office in Great George Street, London. Apparently, “the crowds are bigger and more rowdy than expected…”, so all police leave is cancelled, and Guy, Louisa’s new husband, must accompany his superior, DCI Stiles, in a car to the meeting. Stiles seems biased against Mosley for no discernible reason, although perhaps this is just a reflection of his copper’s innate fears of public disorder, if the lower orders are given something to encourage them to be rebellious: “I don’t like the idea of that many people [at a London rally] thinking the BUF has got something to offer them.” This is endorsed by the reaction of a cockney beat copper, who happens to be in the car with them: “Sounds all right to me, if you ask, guv: [Ramsay] MacDonald’s a shower, isn’t he? A traitor to the Labour party. We need a real leader, someone who believes in the Brits and the working man.” I’m not sure about that term “Brits”, but I don’t have the time for the research to prove that an anachronism.

There is a murder on the cruise, and it just so happens that Guy is, fortuitously, also available to help unmask the perpetrator, because he joined the cruise in mid-stream [although not literally], as he couldn’t bear to be parted from his new wife for so long so, because the death occurred in international waters, he assumes control of the investigation. The relationships involved with the murder suspects are somewhat murky, and there is also a historical element to them, so they take quite some untangling, and the added complication is that Louisa is not able to reveal her reason for being less than forthcoming with information about the Mitfords. The murder, and the consequent trial, is based on a real murder which took place in 1935, but I will reveal no details of this, as it could easily prove to be a plot spoiler; the character of “Iain” is loosely based on Maxwell Knight, of MI5 and, according to Fellowes, the MI5 file on Mosley was opened in 1933, “with a report from Detective Constable Edward Pierpoint, who had been at a fascist public meeting in Manchester.” I would question if a public meeting can be described as “fascist”, but no matter; what I am reasonably sure of is that, as Mosley’s first Director of Propaganda, Wilfred Risdon would have been responsible for organising this meeting.

This is quite a decent ‘whodunnit’, aside from any observations on class in early 20th century British society; then again, it is almost impossible to escape those, especially if one includes the epitome of this genre, Agatha Christie, so they can be seen as background colour, which helps to shape the characters. This book was published in paperback by Sphere [Little, Brown Book Group] in 2021 [2020], ISBN 978-0-7515-7397-8.

Book Review

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The Consequences of Fear, by Jacqueline Winspear

This is a Maisie Dobbs novel, and it is one of at least fourteen by this author; there is some confusion about this number between the biography at the back of the book, and the publications list at the front, but no matter: suffice to say that this character has had plenty of outings, presumably in the same time period, which is in the early years of the second world war. She is also known as Lady Margaret, courtesy of her late husband, who died in the previous war, but for her professional work, that of an investigator, she prefers to be known by her maiden name. She lives part of the time in close proximity to her late husband’s parents, in rural Kent, but she also keeps a small flat in London, for when she is working. She also has a gentleman friend, “a diplomat of sorts. An American, working at the embassy”, but they are rather like the proverbial “ships which pass in the night”, so understandably, she worries how much longer the relationship can last.

This case starts with an apparent murder being committed on a bomb site, during the blackout on a dark night, and observed by a young messenger runner; apparently, in reality, during the war, young boys [and only boys] who could run very fast were chosen to run messages between Air Raid Precautions [ARP] dépôts, which was dangerous, especially as they were expected to continue even during bombing raids. This character was actually suggested by the work of the author’s own father, and in the story, messages are also carried between government departments and private addresses.

The boy, Freddie Hackett, tells the police what he saw, but he isn’t believed, so when the opportunity arises to tell Maisie Dobbs, he does so. Maisie also happens to work for a “secret government department spearheading covert operations against the Nazis [sic]”; again, the lazy association of the Nazis with all wartime German forces, but this is all too common, I regret to say; Maisie instinctively believes the boy, taking the commendable view that children should be listened to, counter to the still predominantly prevailing view that children should be seen and not heard. Unfortunately, nearly everybody whom Maisie tells about the incident, people she knows she can trust, tend to the view that the boy is either exaggerating, or that he dreamed the whole thing up during the stress of a bombing raid.

As the narrative progresses, and the plot unfolds, more information becomes available to Maisie to support young Freddie’s assertion, but she still encounters some official opposition, especially because her covert work is so secret that nothing can be allowed to compromise it, especially when it involves sending SOE agents into occupied France. The period feel of the story is realised well, and it is reasonable to make the main character a woman of some substance, given the timeframe, albeit not too high in society to arouse resentment when dealing with the lower orders; she is also very caring when it comes to trying to help the boy’s family escape from an abusive husband & father. Maisie finds the killer in the end, but the resolution is not as satisfactory as she could have hoped for. The paperback I read was published by Allison & Busby, London, in 2021, ISBN 978-0-7490-2668-4.

Website Update

With reference to my previous post, as a result of, sadly, inevitable postage price increases, and very probably an indirect result of Britain’s recently leaving the EU, it has become necessary to update the Wilfred Books website to reflect this, because the postal charges included for despatch of the print version of Black Shirt and Smoking Beagles have been insufficient, for all areas of the world, for some time now. I should also point out that the book’s retail purchase price has NOT increased, neither are there any plans for this to happen. To achieve this update, certain sections of the site have been ‘refactored’, as it’s called, but it has not been a simple matter of just editing a few items of text; the reason for this is that a new price group, specifically for delivery to the EU zone, needed to be introduced: previously, the first non-UK price group included Europe, but this is no longer the case. More details can be found on the website’s about page, where there is a link to the book’s own page, and there is also a purchase link there.

Another complication is that there is now a veritable plethora of possible screen sizes for all of the devices which people can now use to access websites, compared to when the book was first published, in 2013; and, indeed, there are now even narrower screens than the first smartphones had [which I find slightly incredible, but I’m old-fashioned, and prefer a laptop for accessing websites]; so, each possible screen size had to be checked, to make sure that the new layout of the page a buyer is taken to when purchasing a print version of the book, looks acceptable with the new EU postal delivery price group included, so although this was relatively straightforward, as mentioned above, it was not a quick undertaking!

I hope the page looks acceptable across all devices, but I must stress that I am not a professional website developer; although I was confident that I could produce a functional & attractive site to make my book available direct, with no middle-man in the process, other than PayPal, which processes the purchase securely. So, if I have missed a new device size, or slipped up when formatting the page for an existing device, please don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments.

Finally, dare I remind readers that a present-buying opportunity [in addition to normal impulse-buying] is rapidly approaching, so if you know of someone [or yourself!] who would enjoy reading a comprehensively-researched examination of the febrile inter-war period of the 1920s & -30s in Britain, please ensure that a purchase can be delivered in good time! The book focuses specifically on what made an ardent socialist like Wilfred Risdon from Bath, who saw action as a medical orderly in the first world war, and worked in the Tredegar coal mines alongside Aneurin Bevan [who, as we know, went on to a sparkling political career], drastically change his political allegiance to support Oswald Mosley who, although he started out also as a socialist with the best of intentions, fairly soon swung to the opposite side of the political spectrum before the second world war. During the war, after a short period of internment in Brixton Prison under the notorious Emergency Regulation 18B, Wilfred sensibly decided to leave politics behind as far as possible, and concentrate on his passion for animal welfare, advancing to the position of Secretary of the prestigious National Anti-Vivisection Society, before his death in 1967; before that, he engineered the bold [and confrontational!] move of the Society’s London headquarters to Harley Street, the heart of the British medical profession, that still [and continues to, sadly] relied upon animal testing, which involved [Wilfred would argue, unnecessary] hideous & painful procedures. Given the state of the world in general, and British politics in particular now, a knowledge of how we arrived at this point can be very illuminating, so I can heartily recommend Black Shirt and Smoking Beagles: but, then again, why wouldn’t I?