Monday, August 9, 2010

Review of The Information Officer by Mark Mills (Harper 2009)

Major Max Chadwick is the information officer on Malta during its long siege and aerial bombardment by the Luftwaffe.  Part of an upper-class set running the island, his job is to gather information and put a positive spin on it to help raise spirits and maintain cordial relations with the locals.  Whilst having an affair with a submariner’s wife, Max falls for Lillian, the deputy editor of a local newspaper.  But juggling two women is the least of his problems once he becomes aware of a serial killer praying on local women.  It appears that the killer is a British combatant, but high command have little interest in revealing his handiwork for fear of unsettling relations with the Maltese and warn Chadwick off investigating the slayings.  Undeterred, Chadwick starts to secretly hunt for the killer in order to stop him striking again.

The Information Officer is an easy to read, but it has too much show and not enough tell for my tastes.  There is a lot of backstory and details on the history of Malta during the Second World War, all of which was fascinating stuff, but it needed to come out through the story rather than consisting of pages of context.  And I never really warmed to the central characters with the exception of Elliot (an American agent), Mitzi (the submariner's wife) and Busuttil (a local detective).  My big issue, however, was plot, which tries to blend serial killer, esponiage and romance, with a heavy dose of local/foreign ally relations and a history lesson.  It proved a little too much.  I don’t want to give spoilers, but I could not workout why the killer was leaving so many clues; it made little sense.  As was the espionage angle, which was never explained.  And the ending was a let down.  It starts to build to a climax, but just as we’re getting to it, it jumps forward nine years and the reader is given a glossed over version that doesn’t give any details of the rescue and what happens after.  Most frustrating.  Overall, Mills demonstrates that he can write well and give a history lesson, but I found the story wearisome.  Furst, Lawton and Kerr do Second World War crime more convincingly.

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