Death in Blitz City by David Young
In 1942, Hull was a dangerous place to be. It had been bombed so often, so heavily that it was expected that lives would be lost. It is only when Detective Chief Inspector Ambrose Swift arrives in the city and arrives at a bomb site that he realises that death has arrived for a young woman which is nothing to do with a bomb, but is a deiberate act of murder and mutilation. Working with his small team of Sergeant Jim Weighton and Women’s Police Auxiliary Kathleen Carver, he begins to uncover a situation which goes far beyond anything he could have expected. His discoveries, made together with his physically imposing Sergeant and resourceful female assistant, will spell danger and far reaching consequences for many people. It would seem that even the truth has limited impact when up against discrimination and corruption at the highest levels.
This is a murder mystery which features a setting permanently altered by war, into which a terrifying element of danger has been introduced. As it becomes a thriller with battles against time and other forces, it becomes nearly impossible to put down, with a writing style that carried me along and kept me turning the pages with twists and more. The characters, including Swift who is full of doubts at times, are brilliantly introduced and established, even if their overall role is small. Swift is introduced as a man with an interesting past, and this book shows that he is thoughtful and has real compassion for those he encounters in the course of his investigation and the side issues. He has his difficulties with a senior officer and the politics of his situation; this is not an investigation carried out without impact on those on the sidelines.
The writing style is especially vivid, especially as it deals with the victims and those close to them. These are not victims in an abstract puzzle, but given convincing identities. As Swift has to deal with discrimination and racism as well as the local suthorities, he finds himself becoming and advocate for those who cannot defend themselves. For example, when it is suggested that the first victim was a prostitute, he snaps at the doctor “The poor woman is a murder victim, whose life’s been cruelly taken away, and we’ll all treat her with the same respect as any murder victim, please.” Later, as a group of GIs who are stationed locally come under suspicion, Swift is keen to actively defend them in many ways against the racism which emerges. The descriptions of the murders contain brutal elements, but there is a sensitive handling of all the details.
This book is immensely well researched; details include how women police volunteers were regarded, and how to drive long distances when fuel rationing was intense and cars were very different. Not that the research is ever allowed to dominate the narrative; it is all blended in beautifully with a sure hand. Swift has a legacy of a past injury to deal with, and the author is realistic in how it affects him, and his reactions when it is mentioned.
This is a well written historical murder mystery which develops naturally into a thriller. It is full of atmosphere and well paced, with several themes kept going throughout. I greatly enjoyed this book, and was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. I get the impression that this is not the only book that will feature Ambrose Swift; certainly I would be keen to read another investigation. I recommend this book to everyone who enjoys historical mysteries and thrillers as an enthralling read.