An international murder mystery, largely set in London in 1941, that also dramatizes the withering impact of World War II on Europe.
British Capt. Simon Arbuthnot is mortally wounded in Crete when his unit is strafed by German warplanes. As he takes his last breath, he hands a bloody envelope to Lt. Edgar Powell and asks him to ensure its safe delivery. However, bad handwriting and bloodstains obscure the name of the addressee, leaving Powell with a mystery that he feels bound by honor to solve. He turns to DCI Frank Merlin, an old friend, for help. Meanwhile, Arbuthnot’s son and heir, Philip, slowly learns that his father’s business interests were as mysterious as they were vast and potentially the result of unsavory dealings. Merlin goes on to investigate the death of a young woman found in a gruesome condition in a London hotel room. She’s the victim of an illegal abortion gone wrong, and Merlin is quickly able to establish that the physician who botched the procedure is Armand de Metz, a once-prominent surgeon who fled his native France during the Nazi occupation. The doctor is soon found murdered, apparently by a professional killer. Further complicating matters, de Metz was evidently in touch with MI5 agents, promising to deliver information relevant to the war effort, and the deceased girl turns out to have been under suspicion due to her active support of the Irish Republican Army. This is the third installment in author Ellis’ (Stalin’s Gold, 2014, etc.) DCI Frank Merlin series, which not only brings back the titular detective, but also some familiar themes: the danger posed to London by German bombing campaigns, the underground French Resistance to both German occupation and a collaborationist Vichy government, and the moral degradation of a city that lives under the shadow of death. As always, the author displays a penetrating knowledge of the historical period, conjuring an authentic depiction of 1941 London. Overall, the plot is an exceedingly complicated one that will require a reader’s focused attention. Thankfully, though, despite the story’s complexity, it’s all related in a crisp, unclouded prose style.
A historically realistic and dramatically enthralling crime story.