A thriller that harkens back to England in the days before the Great War.
In 1910, the British government is already thinking ahead to a possible war with Germany. Wiggins and his boss, Capt. Vernon Kell, comprise a fledgling Secret Service Bureau “designed to counter the threat from German spies at home.” When King Edward VII dies, monarchs from all over Europe arrive for the funeral, “the greatest coming together of royalty the world has ever known.” This is an opportunity for a potential assassin to spark a worldwide conflict. At the same time, dockworkers threaten to strike, people rumble about unions and revolution, and suffragettes are becoming increasingly militant. Home Secretary Winston Churchill takes a hard-nosed attitude against all domestic unrest and puts heavy pressure on Kell. The story paints a vivid picture of London in that era, although Kell and Wiggins seem pushed in too many directions. A red ribbon hangs in the window of “The Embassy of Olifa,” which is actually a high-class brothel and possible “hive of international spies” in Belgravia. Although the ribbon winds throughout the tale, Kell doesn’t know its significance. The reader may not get it either, although a character helpfully tells Wiggins that “red is the color of revolution.” As interesting as the spy threat may be the turmoil over women’s right to vote. Suffragettes train to defend themselves against beatings by police, while militant women go on hunger strikes and are force-fed. Kell’s wife, Constance, is a suffragette, complicating his job—she shares little information with him, and their different goals strain their marriage. Sherlock Holmes makes a cameo appearance, but Wiggins is the best character, with his street smarts, slang, and different worldview from Kell’s.
An engrossing story that leaves time for a sequel or two before war breaks out.