In Shadows of the Dead, early hints of fascism in England are beginning to show. The author brings this forward by 5 or 10 years and gives the group the name British Union of Patriots or the BUP, which is a slight change in title from the group that actually did begin to gain influence in the 1930's under Sir Oswald Mosely, the British Union of Fascists or BUF.
(The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters which I read last year gives a great deal of information about the BUF and Diana Mitford's marriage to Oswald Mosely.)
The plot begins with the murders of Lord Fairfax and an American visitor. The American was an undercover American Bureau of Investigation agent who was keeping an eye on an American member of the Ku Klux Klan who was reaching out to fascists. (I could find no evidence that the Klan reached out to British Fascists in the 1920's, but it would not be inconceivable as they shared many goals.)
DCI Paul Stark, the main character in Assassins, is on the case, but has a number of complications involving family and his lover. Special Agent Donald Noble arrives from the States and is allowed on the case since one of the victims was not only an American, but a colleague.
One of the places the story fell down for me is Special Agent Nobles explanation of his hatred of the Ku Klux Klan. His recounting of a terrible racial incident when he was about 13 feels like a combination of mushy and pedantic. Similar incidents to what Nobles describes happened more often than Americans would like to admit and should never be forgotten, but for some reason this recounting felt more emotionally manipulative than genuine.
The other place where the novel failed for me was the conclusion. Although it would have been interesting if people had begun to recognize the threat Hitler was becoming as early as 1921--it was not until later that Churchill became almost a lone voice in his concern about German rearmament. I will avoid giving the spoiler about the event that didn't feel realistic to me.
So...this could have been a great cautionary tale about the rising nationalism that we are seeing now in so many countries, but the effort had flaws for me. I didn't like it as well as I liked Assassins, but as with his previous book, Eldridge kept me engaged.
It was amusing to see Noel Coward in a kind of cameo appearance as someone to turn to for theater gossip, but who also had a keen insight into a suspicious character.
Digression: Noel Coward, known for his flamboyance and wit, played an important role during WWII.
With the outbreak of the Second World War Coward abandoned the theatre and sought official war work. After running the British propaganda office in Paris, where he concluded that "if the policy of His Majesty's Government is to bore the Germans to death I don't think we have time",
Had the Germans invaded Britain, Coward was scheduled to be arrested and killed, as he was in The Black Book along with other figures such as Virginia Woolf, Paul Robeson, Bertrand Russell, C. P. Snow and H. G. Wells. When this came to light after the war, Coward wrote: "If anyone had told me at that time I was high up on the Nazi blacklist, I should have laughed ... I remember Rebecca West, who was one of the many who shared the honour with me, sent me a telegram which read: 'My dear – the people we should have been seen dead with'."I hope Mr. Eldridge will add Mr. Coward to his list of characters in his next novel and give him a larger role.
Read in Feb.; blog post scheduled for April 10
Historical fiction/Police Procedural. May 1, 2017. Print length: 224 pages.