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.
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 espionageâ€”Herbert's former boss at MI5, a Soviet journalist for Izvestia, and the ranking CIA officer under U.S. embassy coverâ€”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.
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
Praise for Vodka:
“A pulsating and imaginative tale of murder and mafia.”
“A great story . . . as gripping as it is murky . . . never a dull moment.”
“Enthusiasm and a quick eye achieve a Dickensian combination of sentiment and cruelty.”