Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Review of Princes Gate by Mark Ellis (Matador, 2011)

London, 1940, and the city is experiencing the ‘phoney war’.  Politically, many of those in government favour appeasement, as does Joseph Kennedy, the US Ambassador to Britain.  While Kennedy is away in America seeking to dethrone Roosevelt, one of the young women from his typing pool is found floating in the Thames.  DCI Merlin is assigned the case, one of a handful under his brief that includes the hit and run death of an emigre scientist, and suspected IRA activity.  Merlin would like to sign-up for active service, but is consigned to remain in the police. Shortly after questioning, another of the US embassy’s staff is found beaten to death.  It appears that there is something afoot within Kennedy’s domain, but diplomatic concerns over Anglo-American relations hampers Merlin’s investigation.  Instead he pursues the case through other means, drifting through the seamier side of the capital, ruffling feathers in the underworld and Whitehall.

Princes Gate is the first in a war-time series featuring London-based DCI Frank Merlin, a widowed copper of Spanish descent.  This first book is set during the ‘phoney war’ of early 1940, a time when many hoped that an agreement could be reach with Hitler rather than pursuing total war.  Ellis taps into the political movements around such hopes as Merlin investigates two murders linked to the US embassy and Joseph Kennedy, a strong proponent of appeasement.  Merlin is a likeable character, the story has a nice hook, and the plot is engaging, entwining a couple of intersecting threads.  However, the pacing is a little uneven, the plot drifts a little in the middle, the tone is a sombre throughout, and I wasn’t entirely convinced by the closing pages.  Nonetheless, Princes Gate is an interesting read and Merlin seems a character worth spending time with so I look forward to reading the second book in the series, Stalin’s Gold.

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