Character-driven international spy thriller set during the deep London fog of 1952.
British novelist Starling (Vodka, not reviewed) smartly centers his mystery around the honest, regular-guy character of Herbert Smith, formerly a secret agent in MI5, now a rookie detective in the Murder Squad at New Scotland Yard. When a floater turns up in the Long Water of Kensington Gardens, probably forcibly drowned, Smith gradually unravels the man’s identity. Max Stensness, a homosexual grad student at King’s College and card-carrying member of the Communist Party, hinted right before he died that he was in possession of knowledge that would change the world. Smith links Stensness to the detective’s former boss, Richard de Vere Green, a slippery glad-hander whose duplicity forced Smith to resign from MI5 18 months before. With the help of Hannah Mortimer, who lost her sight due to experiments performed in Auschwitz on her and her now-dead twin, Smith widens the net from de Vere Green, who used Stensness as a lover and an operative, to Russian journalist Alexander Kazantsev and American CIA officer Ambrose Papworth. The deceased had appointments with all of them in the park the night he was drowned. Moreover, the top-secret information on DNA Stensness was ostensibly offering had also lured Linus Pauling and Fritz Fischer (an alias of the still-at-large Nazi war criminal Joseph Mengele), scientists and colleagues at Caltech University who were marooned in London because of the fog. Starling compresses many elements—the McCarthy era’s heightened anti-Communist suspicions, still-sore war wounds, early explorations into the DNA double helix and the noxious, historic London fog—into an intriguing, if murky, mystery.
Multi-layered fiction playing skillfully with shades of fact.