Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Review of The Smoke by Tony Broadbent (2012, MP Publishing)

London post-war. After a stint in the merchant navy, Jethro has returned home to work as a theatre stagehand and resume his life as a cat burglar and jewel thief. His work in the West End provides a cover for criminal activities, both as a legitimate source of income and access to wealthy areas of Mayfair and Belgravia. After spotting a valuable necklace set, he decides to set up an escapade to steal them. The job, however, means breaking in to the Soviet embassy, as the set belong to the ambassador’s wife. His successful mission, but narrow escape, brings him to the attention of MI5, who want him to make a second trip to retrieve a code book and help a cipher clerk defect. His first trip, however, has ruffled a few feathers. The Russians want to prosecute revenge, the London mob want him to join their ranks, and the police want him locked up.

The Smoke is the first book in the Jethro, cat burglar series set in post-war London. Jethro is a Cockney likely-lad who’s day job is working as a theatre stagehand, but he makes his real money stealing expensive jewellery. He’s a skilled thief who always spends time casing his target, works alone and uses a single trusted fence to minimize the risk of being caught. In this outing, he breaks into the Soviet embassy to steal the jewels of the ambassador’s wife. His escapade makes him the target of the soviets, the London mob, the police and MI5 and he gets into scrapes with them all, eventually agreeing to return to the embassy for more thievery on behalf of MI5. While the story is reasonably entertaining, I didn’t really warm to it. Written in the first person, I never really connected with Jethro’s voice and perspective. The main issue though was the plot, which just didn’t feel credible enough and was a little uneven in pacing. Yes, it’s a caper tale involving Soviet officials, the mob, police and secret services, but even allowing for that, it felt too contrived and over-the-top while lacking the humour to offset. Overall, the detail on the thefts was interesting, and the story had its moments, but I never felt vested in the story.

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