Just going to get this out of the way at the beginning: as a former fan of Mad Men, I got a giggle from the name of one of the main characters here. There. Now then.
This is the tale of a man found dead in a bomb shelter the morning after an air raid in WWII London. The enemy action that killed him wasn’t German, though – it was much more local than that, and it’s up to Inspector Jago to find out who did it, preferably before he takes on the new assignment that unexpectedly lands in his lap.
It’s a bit of an odd story, this. It begins with a long section from the point of view of the boy who finds the body, out for a bit of illicit not-quite-looting – and then the boy is barely heard from for the rest of the book. The suddenly imposed time limit felt strange, too, like an attempt to inject urgency into the plot which ultimately didn’t really do it.
Another odd thing is the tendency of quite a few characters to do kind of a lot of speechifying to total strangers. At the most innocuous question, suddenly someone is giving a rather high-flown monologue about duty, or their life story, or their dreams and aspirations. Now and then might have just been the author loosing his inner poet or philosopher, but it happens frequently throughout.
All of the writing felt a bit self-conscious. There were moments where I could see what the author intended, but which did not quite come off as he wished. Certain moments were built up with little or no pay-off – they just dried up like shallow streams in a drought. Some character motivation was muddy as well; one character lies to the police with no reason that made sense except to extend the plot with their obstruction. There’s also a deal of superfluous repetition and recapping.
It just felt fragmented, like there was no real anchor for the plot. I was never sure whether I was really supposed to like the characters, or whether they liked each other, or why characters behaved the way they did, or, honestly, why I was supposed to care. I appreciated the concept of “the Blitz detective”, and the idea that it’s hard to invest much time and effort into the murder of a single individual in the midst of carnage. I’d love to read the story I thought this was going to be, with all the terror and tension of London under constant threat of horrific bombing raids. But it didn’t connect. I didn’t feel it.
The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.