A Different Class of Spy #1
Quercus, November 2017
It’s not easy for an author to come up with an original idea for a novel, much less a plot involving Sherlock Holmes. But that is just what H.B. Lyle has done, albeit the great detective here only playing a minor cameo role, offstage, as it was. Instead, he has grasped an historical development, the forerunners of Britain’s MI5 and MI6 in 1909 and using the “best” of the Baker Street Irregulars,Wiggins, as a protagonist. Not only Holmes, but no less a personage than Winston Churchill plays a minor role in the plot.
The story revolves around Vernon Kell, who apparently headed up the original efforts to establish a counter-intelligence operation in Great Britain, hindered by his inability to find good agents until his friend, Holmes, suggested Higgins. A substantial portion of the novel recounts Higgins’ exploits and a good deal of background on how the Baker Street Irregulars came to be. And, of course, we learn a great deal about the conspiracies pre-dating World War I and espionage efforts by Germany and others not only to obtain secrets but also to sow discontent and confusion in London.
The novel is exciting, interesting and fast-moving. It is an historical mystery, the beginning of what is promised to be a new series, and a welcome one. The author captures the atmosphere of 1909 London with sharp observations and dialogue. We look forward to its sequel with great anticipation.
Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2017.
A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery #26
Atlantic Monthly Press, April 2017
Commissario Guido Brunetti, in the midst of interrogating a suspect, suddenly collapses (intentionally, to prevent a colleague from committing a foolish act) by faking a heart attack. He is taken to the hospital, where no evidence of an attack is found, but just high blood pressure. While waiting for the results of tests, he concludes that he no longer enjoys his job, and after discussing it with his wife, and on the advice of the attending doctor, decides to go away from it all alone.
His wife sets him up with a villa owned by a relative on an island in the lagoon, where he intends to rest, row and read. He rows with the caretaker, Davide Casati, whom he befriends. Incidentally, Casati and Brunetti’s father won regatta years before. All goes well until Casati is found drowned following a violent storm.
Brunetti then undertakes to investigate the circumstances of Casati’s death to determine whether it was an accident or suicide, despite his self-imposed sabbatical. Along the way, the Commissario learns a lot about his friend, nature, and our failure to protect the environment, as well as the result of one’s actions during our lives.
Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2017.