MI-5 and the CID protect London—think anti-Semitism, elitism and pithy verbal snapshots of blackout raids and chicanery in the War Office—during the blitz.
When silent-screen beauty Mabel Morgan tumbles out her window and gores herself on an iron post, DI Ted Stratton disagrees with higher-ups that it was suicide. Warned off unsanctioned investigating, he looks into the case anyway and learns that the star’s only friend, a wispy homosexual, has been beaten by thugs looking for “it” from her rooms. Unsure what “it” is, Stratton keeps digging until he finds an initialed hankie belonging to esteemed Sir Neville alongside an unidentified corpse buried in a churchyard. This discovery brings Stratton to the attention of Col. Forbes-James, the MI-5 chief who’s been rooting out fascists, communists and traitorous isolationists with the help of Diana Calthrop, who’s infiltrated the Right Club. Diana, weary of her tedious husband and overbearing sister-in-law, begins an affair with a handsome double agent, but like Stratton she’s soon awash in lies, half-truths and rumors of homosexual liaisons within the Old Boy network. The denouement is not so much a revelation as a cover-up that leaves more dead and keeps Stratton and Diana quiet for the good of England and their own longevity.
Wilson (Telling Lies to Alice, 2004, etc.) kicks off this new series with memorable portraits of witheringly evasive Forbes-James, based in part on Charles Knight, the real spymaster behind Ian Fleming’s M, and family man Stratton, the sort of relative readers would all welcome into their homes.