Visibility by Boris Starling | Paperback | Barnes & Noble


3.5 8
by Boris Starling

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From the author of Messiah, Storm and Vodka comes a thrilling mystery set during the Great Fog of post-World War Two London, a time of secrets and intrigue.

At first, it seems the Great Fog has claimed another victim. A drunk, perhaps, wandering unsighted through Hyde Park and stumbling into the icy shallows of Long Water. But Max Stensness


From the author of Messiah, Storm and Vodka comes a thrilling mystery set during the Great Fog of post-World War Two London, a time of secrets and intrigue.

At first, it seems the Great Fog has claimed another victim. A drunk, perhaps, wandering unsighted through Hyde Park and stumbling into the icy shallows of Long Water. But Max Stensness was stone cold sober when he died. And in the hours before his death, the young biochemist had claimed to be in possession of a secret that would change the world. Having traded MI5 for New Scotland Yard, Detective Inspector Herbert Smith thinks he has left the murky world of espionage behind him – until he begins retracing the final footsteps of Max Stensness. Suddenly he’s being tailed, and thinly veiled threats are issued–danger lurks at every turn in the investigation. The CIA, KGB and MI5 are all vying to get their hands on the dead man’s secret, and as the body count climbs, it’s clear there’s someone who will stop at nothing to claim it.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

At the start of this smart, intriguing puzzle from British author Starling (Vodka), Herbert Smith, "once of the British Army, latterly of MI5" and now a detective with "the Metropolitan Police's Murder Squad," draws the case of a drowned man found in a Hyde Park pond. Normally, this would be a rare occurrence, but it's 1952 and London is gripped in a fog so miasmic that stumbling into a pond can easily be written off as a simple accident. It's not, of course, and Smith's investigations bring him into contact with a scientist who possesses a secret that will change the future; a beautiful, blind police diver, Hannah Mortimer; several Russian spies; British turncoats; and a Nazi so reviled that even today his name evokes absolute evil. Where most thriller writers plumb the depths of imagination for their earth-shattering secrets, Starling does just the opposite by employing the reality of history. It's a difficult trick, but once again he pulls it off with panache. (Mar.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal

In December 1952, during London's "Great Fog," a miasma that would claim thousands of lives, visibility in the city is down to mere feet. In this murky world, Herbert Smith, formerly of MI5, now a misfit in Scotland Yard's Murder Squad, discovers that a drowning victim, a biochemist, was actually murdered. At an international conference on the day of his death, the scientist had approached three individuals involved in espionage—Herbert's former boss at MI5, a Soviet journalist for Izvestia, and the ranking CIA officer under U.S. embassy cover—and had offered to the highest bidder a secret that he claimed would change the world. As Herbert tries to solve the case, he finds himself drawn to Hannah Mortimer, a blind police diver and a Holocaust survivor. When Herbert discovers two microdots and deciphers their coded message, he and Hannah find a connection that ultimately ties all these individuals together and threatens both their lives. British author Starling (Vodka) offers a topnotch espionage mystery that exudes atmosphere. Highly recommended for all popular fiction collections.
—Ron Terpening

Kirkus Reviews
Character-driven international spy thriller set during the deep London fog of 1952. British novelist Starling (Vodka, not reviewed) smartly centers his mystery around the honest, regular-guy character of Herbert Smith, formerly a secret agent in MI5, now a rookie detective in the Murder Squad at New Scotland Yard. When a floater turns up in the Long Water of Kensington Gardens, probably forcibly drowned, Smith gradually unravels the man's identity. Max Stensness, a homosexual grad student at King's College and card-carrying member of the Communist Party, hinted right before he died that he was in possession of knowledge that would change the world. Smith links Stensness to the detective's former boss, Richard de Vere Green, a slippery glad-hander whose duplicity forced Smith to resign from MI5 18 months before. With the help of Hannah Mortimer, who lost her sight due to experiments performed in Auschwitz on her and her now-dead twin, Smith widens the net from de Vere Green, who used Stensness as a lover and an operative, to Russian journalist Alexander Kazantsev and American CIA officer Ambrose Papworth. The deceased had appointments with all of them in the park the night he was drowned. Moreover, the top-secret information on DNA Stensness was ostensibly offering had also lured Linus Pauling and Fritz Fischer (an alias of the still-at-large Nazi war criminal Joseph Mengele), scientists and colleagues at Caltech University who were marooned in London because of the fog. Starling compresses many elements-the McCarthy era's heightened anti-Communist suspicions, still-sore war wounds, early explorations into the DNA double helix and the noxious, historic London fog-into an intriguing, ifmurky, mystery. Multi-layered fiction playing skillfully with shades of fact. Agent: Caradoc King/AP Watt
From the Publisher
Praise for Vodka:

“A pulsating and imaginative tale of murder and mafia.”
Daily Mirror

“A great story . . . as gripping as it is murky . . . never a dull moment.”
The Economist

“Enthusiasm and a quick eye achieve a Dickensian combination of sentiment and cruelty.”
The Guardian

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
Onyx Novel Series
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.28(w) x 6.76(h) x 1.05(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

The fog was coming, without ­and within.

On the far side of the river, the first smoky tresses were stroking the rooftops with fingers as slim and elegant as a concert pianist’s. If a man had watched for a while, he would have seen the mist crawling slowly across the cityscape, its purposeful stealth that of a prowling ­cat.

And if a man had watched for a while, he might have felt the first hazings in his head, a gauze which would make the world opaque and through which he would have to reach for his very ­thoughts.
The fog had come before, but rarely with such purpose. Londoners were nothing if not survivors, however, and they knew when trouble was ahead. Certainly they needed no warning from the weathermen to brace themselves for ­a bad one.

New Scotland Yard was a riverside riot of turrets, crenellations, and people; a Gothic extravagance that swallowed thousands of worker bees every morning and spat them out again come dusk. Overcrowding was a permanent endemic; the place had grown like Topsy, with new buildings added every few decades to ease the strain, but the problem remained resolutely unallayed. Bounded by the Thames in front and Whitehall to the rear, New Scotland Yard’s room for expansion was running ­out fast.

Shifts in the Metropolitan Police’s Murder Squad came in threes: the morning, 6 a.m. until 2 p.m.; the afternoon, 2 p.m. until 10 p.m.; and the night, 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. On the days when Herbert Smith, once of the British Army, latterly of MI5, and now a member of said Murder Squad, was scheduled for the afternoon slot, he liked to lunch beforehand with no company save for that afforded by a pie, a pint, the Evening Standard, and the Times crossword. He frequented a pub off Smith Square, which at ten minutes’ walking distance from the Yard was at least twice as far as any of his colleagues were liable to venture, even those adventurous enough to seek grounds more exotic than those of the staff ­canteen.

This day, he read Milton Shulman’s film reviews in the early edition of the Evening Standard, making a mental note to go and see The Narrow Margin at the London Pavilion (“an exciting journey” wrote Shulman), and to miss The Road to Bali, on at the Plaza and succinctly dismissed as “a cul­-­de­-­sac.” Herbert usually found Shulman’s opinions pretty accurate, though as he only ever went to the cinema on his own, he had never discovered whether this was a majority opinion ­or not.

The Standard duly read, he polished off three­-­quarters of the Times crossword–­particularly proud of decoding Writing implement dripped red ink? (7) as “N­-­I­-­B­-­B­-­L­-­E­-­D”–­and found without surprise that forcing himself into the office was a genuine physical ­strain.

It was not that he wanted to stay in the pub–­he was not a big drinker–­but simply that anywhere was surely better than another afternoon in ­the office.

There, in a nutshell, was the contradiction at the heart of working the murder beat. Days in the Yard, cramped, airless, and noisy, were dreadful; but to get out of there, someone had to have been killed, and Herbert had seen enough violent death in his time not to wish for ­more of it.

And, if he was to be honest, cramped, airless, and noisy weren’t the half of it. No one else on the Murder Squad seemed to mind the conditions, but then no one else on the Murder Squad felt as though their presence was at best tolerated and at worst ­resented.

Herbert was not one of them. He hadn’t done his time in the ranks, and he was still learning how to do things the Scotland Yard way. As far as his colleagues were concerned, therefore, his time at Five might as well have been a sojourn in the inner circles of Hell. Suspicion between arms of the law was always bad; when an espionage service was involved, it was exacerbated ­tenfold.

Of the five men round the table when Herbert walked into the office, only Tyce and Veal acknowledged him, and only Veal did so with anything that approximated a greeting in recognized English. Tyce gave a curt nod. The others, Connolly, Tulloch, and Bradley, glanced at him as though he were something the cat had brought in, and turned their attention back to the matter at hand; that matter being the case of Christopher Craig, an unlovely, manipulative psychopath, and Derek Bentley, an illiterate, impressionable epileptic, who had broken into a warehouse in Croydon the previous ­month.

The police had arrived. Craig had drawn a gun. Bentley had shouted: “Let him have it, ­Chris.”

A plea to surrender the weapon, or an exhortation ­to murder?

Craig, clearly taking it as the latter–­assuming that he had listened to Bentley at all, which given their relationship seemed unlikely–­had shot two policemen. Detective Constable Frederick Fairfax was hit in the shoulder, painful but not too serious. Police Constable Sidney Miles ­was killed.

Killing a policeman was so far beyond the pale as to be invisible. Bentley and Craig were due to stand trial at the Old Bailey the coming Tuesday, the ninth, and there was not one man in Scotland Yard who felt anything other than that they should both be convicted ­of murder.

No, that was not quite true. There was one man who felt otherwise, one man only–­and that man was ­Herbert.

The problem, as far as Herbert was concerned, was this. The death penalty applied only to those over eighteen. Craig, who deserved to hang as much as anyone Herbert had ever encountered, was only sixteen. Even if he was found guilty, he would not be ­executed.

Meet the Author

Boris Starling has worked as a reporter on the Sun and the Daily Telegraph. His first book, Messiah, has been made into a mini-series on the BBC, for which Starling is the series creator. Starling studied at Cambridge and currently lives in London with his partner and their new daughter.

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