The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear – London in September 1941 brings new challenges for Maisie Dobbs

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear

There are many facets of the Masie Dobbs story – this is the sixteen book that tells of her life and adventures. However, it is so well written that this book stands alone as a story of the Second World War, set in London 1941 when Britain still seems to fear the threat of invasion. When a messenger boy witnesses something which disturbs him even more than the continuous bombing of London which he has been trying to outrun, he turns to Maisie for help as a private investigator. What Freddie and a lot of people do not know is that Maisie is also working with those who are secretly trying to help the French cause, and it is this dangerous work that is making her wonder about all of her relationships.

As with all of Winspear’s novels this book benefits from an impressive amount of research, into the role played by boys who could run fast, the effects of the First World War on the men and women who were there, and the role of the British Secret services during the present conflict. Even without the element of mystery this would be an impressive book of historical fiction, such is Winspear’s sure understanding of the costs of total war. This skilled author never slows the story with extra information, it emerges naturally as part of the narrative. Maisie as always is the central figure, relying on her training from her mentor, her experience and her intuition to make the most of her contacts. Her work is against the background of her love for her daughter, for her family and friends that she has such a strong interest in from long term affection. This book is a wonderful read for Maisie Dobbs fans, but also those coming new to the characters. I was so very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this excellent book.

The Prologue sets out the story of Freddie Hackett, a boy who can run fast, knows London and has good reason to be observant and wary. When he witnesses a murder, he reports it to the police, but he knows that they will be difficult to convince without any evidence. He realizes that he must tell “Someone who would believe him.” Meanwhile Maisie is saying a temporary goodbye to her daughter Anna, and dealing with questions about “Uncle Mark”, an American that she is apparently having a relationship with in London. Her return to London from the village where she has gathered those whoshe loves is to discover her assistant embroiled in the cases that he is able to deal with, as well as the plight of Freddie who has been turned away from Scotland Yard. She determines that the boy is not lying, but can see that there is little specific evidence. She meets up with Robert MacFarlane to attend to her secret War work, which is difficult and secret and on this occasion particularly challenging on several levels. It is why she is beginning to wonder if she can really continue with her present life, especially when she gets more evidence of the worse that people are capable of in a time of uncertainty.

This is a brilliantly written book of twists and turns, surprises and revelations. It is a compelling read as it seems effortlessly to combine the challenges faced by a talented woman torn by her loyalty to those she loves and the common effort to do the right thing. I recommend this as a satisfying read, and an excellent addition to the Maisie Dobbs series.

City of Spies by Mara Timon – a young woman in a wartime city balancing on the edge of neutrality

 

Realistically exciting and a thriller which maintains a breathless pace, this is an adventure in wartime Europe which expands on the already fascinating stories of female Special Operations Executive heroines. Elisabeth de Mornay is a woman with an obscure past, a perilous present, and an uncertain future. Operating on several levels Elisabeth herself is trying to work out which identity is most effective in a country which is balancing its alliances between German forces, the allies headed by British interests, and the disparate interests of Russians, Spanish and other nationalities all jostling for space and influence as seen in the large number of refugees in a small country. Elisabeth has discovered the high cost of being an agent in France over some time, as the danger of getting close to people as well as the danger of betrayal has left her determined to survive in any way. This is a brilliantly researched novel which revels in the details of a setting intimately described, the clothes that much of rationed Europe could only dream of, and the food and drink that seems to be little affected by shortages. Going under various guises she must work out who, if anyone, she can trust, when no one is completely as they seem.  This is a well written book which I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review. 

 

The book opens with Cecile recalling her time in France as a “pianist” or radio operative. Partly lucky, partly because she is brave and resourceful, she has survived thus far, but one more betrayal has propelled her to seek sanctuary with an older woman even though her very presence is a threat. Her training means that she knows when she is being followed, and what to do in hand to hand combat. She has an incredibly strong need to survive, which keeps her going even when under fire. A chance encounter leads to a whole new set of problems, and means that she turns up in Lisbon in June 1943. Her new setting means a new role with an old contact in a new context, an encounter which exposes several facts about her background. Slipping into the  role of a mysterious French widow who has recently arrived in Lisbon as a refugee from occupied France, she has the house, clothes and identity fabricated for her, but her own preparations means that she goes further to create other disguises in case of need. As she begins to blend in with a society of refugees and transitory residents of a country balancing on the edge of neutrality, the gossip, jealousies and dangers of a confusing place mean that she must constantly adjust her assumptions about those around her.

 

This is a book that is virtually impossible to put down when engaged with the adventures of a remarkable woman. I enjoyed Elisabeth’s story in France as she takes on huge challenges, but it is in Lisbon among a community of potential spies and military from Germany and other enemies that the narrative really comes alive as she must try to double guess everyone who she meets. The setting is beautifully described; the cafes, the parties, the streets and the countryside all come alive in glorious detail. The character of Elisabeth is a wonderful one, as she uses her intelligence and cunning to prepare as much as possible for threats and attempts on her life. A fast moving and enjoyable story with a warmth of personality which is memorable, I thoroughly recommend this remarkable novel. 

I feel really proud to be starting the blog tour for this wonderful book. In the back of the book there is an historical note about the elements of the story as researched by the author, and a question and answer section which gives more details about the writing of the novel. These additional sections are fascinating and well worth a read in their own right.

Death has Deep Roots by Michael Gilbert – a British Library Crime Classic of the Second World War and beyond

Image result for death has deep roots michael gilbert

 

A British Library Crime Classic which is subtitled “A Second World War Mystery” is actually set after that conflict, as several of the characters are desperately looking back to find the truth behind a more recent murder.This is a dramatic novel which uses the device of a murder trial to frame and inform much of the action; a woman stands liable to the death penalty unless her legal team can find out what really occurred in this sealed unit mystery. As the correct legal niceties are exercised in the court as a result of Gilbert’s own considerable expertise and experience, a thriller plot unrolls as Nap, solicitor and inexperienced amateur detective hunts through France for the vital clues that will help to establish identities and motives. This is a murder which indeed has deep roots in an occupation and resistance which has spilt into the narrow streets of London several years later. In his typically informative introduction Martin Edwards not only establishes Gilbert’s unique knowledge of the forms and background to this excellent novel, but also the vital difference between a thriller and a murder mystery which he seems to combine so effortlessly. I was so pleased to be given the opportunity to read and review this excellent addition to the British Library set.

 

As the Central Criminal Court fills for the trial of Mademoiselle Victoria Lamartine, there is much eager anticipation of a spectacle. There is to be a surprise, however, as a different lawyer steps up for her defence. The judge agrees to move the case to the end of his list in order to allow a different emphasis to be given to the facts and a different plea to be entered, and thus eight days are granted for investigations into a matter which necessitates no little danger for those who undertake to find out more. As  firm of solicitors is instructed who are more used to steady questions of law than murder trials, a young lawyer meets with the young woman and begins to assemble the facts. The roots of the matter surround the activities of landowners, farmers and crucially resistance fighters in Occupied France. If it can be proved that Lamartine had motive for the killing of Major Eric Thoseby, the case against her seems likely to be proved.It is this aspect of the case that Nap must go and investigate, which proves to be no light matter as for some, the brutality of war is not just a memory. Happily he has some help, even if that seems very suspicious. Investigations into the death of Thoseby in a small London hotel seem safer, until a brutal bar room brawl leaves even the most experienced of investigators nursing wounds. Much hinges on the ability of a murderer to gain access to a hotel room which was seemingly under surveillance at all times. Also the wandering eye of a young man which may have fixed on several women could provide an alternative explanation for many events, if only he can be found as time ticks past.

 

This is a complex yet satisfactorily explained book which combines the tension of a thriller with the clever courtroom drama of a true master of the art. The actual murder which seems impossible for anyone else to have committed is relatively straightforward, but the background and explanations are complex. As famous lawyer Macrea pulls out all the stops to defend his client, I was intrigued as to how he could convince the jury to try to understand how a woman who had survived capture by the Gestapo was innocent of brutal and effective violence. It was good to read a novel in which women were active participants and not just hapless victims or extra witnesses,and all things considered this is a well balanced book. As part of an excellent series of  Michael Gilbert books this is an excellent book, and a satisfactory read on many levels.

 

Later today I am due in church to take part in a service which contains Faure’s Requiem. It is going to be a big sing! It will be especially powerful as I am told that Faure lived in Paris and therefore would have known Notre Dame well. Enjoy is probably the wrong word, but I am sure it will be a memorable event.

Sleeper- The Red Storm by J.D. Fennell – A fast paced thriller of war and more

Speed, danger and intense excitement is the order of the day for this book, the second outing for Will Starling. The Second World War is raging across Europe, the truly evil organisation, VIPER, is developing terrifying weapons, and Will seems to be the target for every kind of attack. Part thriller, part dangerous fantasy, this is a book where no one is who he or she seems to be, and there is danger everywhere for Will and Anna whose combat skills and quick thinking must meet every eventuality. There is also a large element of mystery as Will tries to recover memories of a family destroyed, his former life erased, and the possibility of his sister, alive but held by enemies, to be rescued. This is not a novel for the overly nervous, but all those who like their adventure fast moving and uncompromising will find much to enjoy here. I am very grateful to the publishers for supplying me with a copy of this totally involving book.

The adventure starts with Will in the company of two members of the French Resistance, Emile and Claudette, as they carry out an audacious act of sabotage involving sophisticated explosives. This is an introduction to the weaponry, fast cars and close shaves that Will must survive in order to forward the fight against Nazis who are in possession of much of France. While he feels sadness for those who do not survive the fight, this is the utterly ruthless way of this novel, where the body count is high, though the violence is largely impersonal. As he travels back to Britain, he realises that he regrets the death of the man who saved him early in “Sleeper”, and he takes some pleasure in avenging at least one wrong action. Anna Wilder reappears, and becomes a companion in adversity, fighting alongside him, but essentially unattainable. There is no time for romance as new weapons emerge, memories are evoked and survival is always a precarious challenge. Very few can be trusted, and even the apparently slow to act can be allies in the fight. Underlying all the fast action of the main story is a careful tale of a character whose very existence becomes a matter of speculation, and whose particular abilities make her both an agent of change and a target of many. Can Will manage the constant challenges he is faced with as well as the need to discover the truth?

Set against the background of the great buildings of Europe, this is a focused description of the fight in a world wide war, as well as fighting forces of evil with a personal agenda. There are hints of H.G.Wells “War of the Worlds” as a terrifying weapon is used, and hope of freedom fades. This is a powerful picture of wartime, with the extra dimension of fantasy danger; an inventive thriller, full of fast paced action, when evil is tackled head on. I enjoyed its challenges, and the varied ways Will deals with situations. Fennell’s style is sharp, purposeful and never allows the story to drag. Recommended for fans of Ian Fleming, this is an action thriller with some fascinating twists and superb plotting.

Image result for sleeper the red storm FennellJ.D. Fennell

J.D. was born in Belfast at the start if the Troubles, and began writing stories at a young age to help
understand the madness unfolding around him.
A lover of reading, he devoured a diverse range of books – his early influences include Fleming, Tolkien,
Shakespeare and the Brontës.
He left Belfast at the age of nineteen and worked as a chef, bartender, waiter and later began a career in
writing for the software industry.
These days he divides his time between Brighton and London, where he lives with his partner and their two
dogs.
J.D.’s debut, Sleeper, was published by The Dome Press in April 2017.

 

I was really pleased to be asked to take part in the Blog Tour for such an imaginative book, and look forward to reading more from this inventive author.