April 15, 2018

Finest Hour 179, Winter 2018

Page 48

Jim Eldridge, Assassins, Severn House, 2016, 256 pages, $30. ISBN 978-1790290881 Portrayal * Worth Reading ***

H. B. Lyle, The Irregular: A Different Class of Spy, Quercus, 2017, 288 pages, $27. ISBN 978-1681440279 Portrayal *** Worth Reading ***

Susan Elia MacNeal, The Paris Spy: A Maggie Hope Mystery, Bantam, 2017, 320 pages, $26. ISBN 978-0399593802 Portrayal ** Worth Reading ***

Review by Michael McMenamin

Michael McMenamin writes the “Action This Day” column. He and his son Patrick are co-authors of the award-winning Winston Churchill Thrillers The DeValera Deception, The Parsifal Pursuit, The Gemini Agenda, The Berghof Betrayal, and The Silver Mosaic.

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Assassins is described by Amazon as “The first of a new mystery series featuring Winston Churchill and King George V” and “set in 1920s London.” It is not, but two out of three is not bad. It is a new mystery series, and it is set in 1920s London. Alas, the series does not “feature” Churchill or King George V, though both make appearances—Churchill in the first chapter and the King in the closing chapters.

The mystery itself is interesting, a series of assassinations of various members of the aristocracy. Churchill as a character, though, is not realistic. For reasons never explained, a cardboard caricature of Churchill as Colonial Secretary takes command of the crime scene after the first murder and has the body removed to the victim’s nearby house before the protagonist, Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Paul Stark, arrives. Stark does not like “Churchill the opportunist. One day a Tory, the next a Liberal. Power at all costs and beat down all those who stand in your way.” Stark seems unaware that Churchill had been a Liberal for more than seventeen years by this point.

Though Churchill is in the midst of negotiating a treaty to end the Anglo-Irish war—a fairly realistic Michael Collins makes an appearance later in the book—he promptly concludes on no evidence whatsoever that Bolsheviks were responsible for the killing and not the IRA. One howler involves a climactic scene at No. 10 Downing Street where “the tall, bulky figure of Churchill entered the room.” As Churchillians know, a “tall” Churchill (5’6”) never entered a room anywhere except when he was being portrayed by the 6’4” British actor John Lithgow in The Crown.

The Irregular is also a new mystery series set in London. It is 1909, and its two protagonists are the real-life Vernon Kell (who became the first head of MI-5) and his operative, a “different class of spy,” a now-grown-up street urchin who once had been a member of Sherlock Holmes’s Baker Street Irregulars. The plot involves Kell’s quest against political opposition to establish a permanent counter-intelligence unit, as well as an undercover investigation to identify and uncover a German spy ring in whose existence no one else—except Churchill at the Board of Trade—believes. Both Holmes and Watson are characters, as is Churchill, who appears at three critical moments where, as Kell’s supporter, he comes across as more far-sighted about the German threat than the other politicians, who oppose Kell.

While the series does not promise to utilize Churchill as a continuing character in future, the real-life anarchist “Peter the Painter” of the famous Siege of Sydney Street is also a character, and that siege in 1910 is just around the corner chronologicially. Also, Mansfield Cummings, the first head of MI-6, makes an appearance at the end of the book, and he and Kell agree to share the services of Kell’s Baker Street Irregular in future books.

The Paris Spy is the seventh Maggie Hope Mystery. Maggie is back in the Special Operations Executive in June 1942 and in Paris at Churchill’s behest to find out who is betraying SOE agents in the field to the Nazis. It is an intriguing, fast-paced story of the perils of being a female SOE agent in Occupied Europe and easily as good as the first six books in the series.

Do not be put off by the two stars awarded for the portrayal of Churchill. MacNeal’s Churchill is once more spot on, but she repeats the myth that Churchill “let Coventry be destroyed in a Luftwaff e attack to protect the secrets of Bletchley Park.” Nope, never happened (see FH 141). It does not do harm to verisimilitude like having a “tall” Churchill enter a room, but it is still enough to lose a star.

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