The second appearance (Sweet Poison, 2001) of those unlikely chums, Communist dogsbody Verity Browne and Lord Edward Corinth, finds Verity sending dispatches from Spain, on the brink of civil war in 1936, to the New Gazette as she waits desperately for Edward to fly in from London and save her political mentor, David Griffiths-Jones, scheduled for execution in one week for the murder of Godfrey Tilney. Edward pops over, proves (fallaciously) that Griffiths-Jones couldn’t possibly have killed Eton alumnus Tilney, then returns to England to attend his sick brother Gerald. While visiting Gerald’s son at Eton, Edward meets another old Etonian, troubled banker Stephen Thayer, who dies shortly thereafter, and learns that a third schoolmate, Makepeace Holden, has died suspiciously in Kenya. Are the deaths revenge for the harsh treatment and later suicide of a sad Jewish Etonian years back? Or are they tied to the Popular Front, Franco, Communist power-plays, and political upheaval in Spain? Several members of Verity’s clique, including a lusty, lying writer, an American widow with blood on her hands, an expatriate director of Shakespeare, and an Embassy attaché, come under Edward’s scrutiny while he dashes from England to Spain to Germany, and with an offhand anti-Semitism typical of the upper classes of the day finally assigns the blame while enjoying a family outing on—where else?—the playing fields of Eton.
Not much for Verity to do here except be duped, but Roberts provides a solid primer on Eton society, European alliances, and British concessions to Nazis’ interests on the eve of war.