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Monday 11 March 2019

‘Exit Day’ by David Laws

Published by Matador,
28 January 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-789016 85-7

Harry Top is a slightly unusual, independent journalist. He lives in a flat in Bury St Edmunds and owns one ninth of an old Gypsy Moth plane that he flies by the seat of his pants and a Triumph Bonneville motorbike that is the love of his life.

Returning home one evening Harry finds that his flat has been maliciously turned over although nothing has been taken.  Shortly afterwards the explanation for this strange turn of events appears on his doorstep in the form of Erica, a volatile and unpredictable old German girlfriend. Harry, now thirty-two, first met Erica, now forty-seven, in Leipzig when he was a student there. They have had an on/off – more off than on – relationship ever since, during which time Erica has had son, Stefan, by another man, Karl Fisher.  Harry is still obsessed with Erica and will do anything for her, but she is still in love with Karl, even though she also hates him.

Erica informs Harry that she has a file implicating several British subjects as past members of the Stasi and current members of its modern arm known as the Kameraden.  These individuals include the Home Secretary, a university lecturer, an accountant, and Marianne Corbishly, a rarely seen and elusive creature who runs the movement in England. Erica tells Harry that agents of the Kameraden have damaged his flat because of his past association with her.  He has, she says, to take her somewhere safe. Harry immediately bends to her will and installs Erica, Stefan and himself in a grand house that belongs to a friend of his on the outskirts of Bury St Edmunds.

Harry sees a great spy story in the making and sets about obtaining evidence that the British people who spied for the Stasi are still active in Britain today.  The very idea that supposed pillars of the establishment are still working against his country fills Harry with horror. He confronts all the spies, other than the government minister, with their wrongdoing. Although he learns little, he is puzzled by the hold that the Germans still have over their ex-Stasi, British stooges. Harry is not the only person interested in the Kameraden, and his exploits lead to him becoming involved with MI6 who ship him off to Germany.  Theoretically this is to keep him safe, but actually they want more evidence against the spies.  Harry is quite happy about the danger he is running because, not only does he believe that he is onto the scoop of a lifetime, he also hopes to uncover aspects of his father’s personal history that have puzzled him for most of his life.

Meanwhile, whilst Harry is away, the countdown to Brexit continues and Erica receives a visitor. Karl Fisher no less, the man she loves and the man who trained and brainwashed her.  There is something he wants her to do.  In return he promises a new and affluent life - and marriage.  We learn that the current aim of the Kameraden is to stop Brexit because they see an independent Britain as a threat to their ability to control Europe. If Erica agrees to help, they will go to extreme lengths to stop the British government signing the exit agreement.  What will Erica decide to do? Will she do as Karl wants and throw a giant spanner in the Brexit plans, or will she stay loyal to Harry and England?

Exit Day is an entertaining, well-written, well- informed story that moves along a good pace. Those who enjoy the underhand machinations of politicians and security agencies coupled with the adventurous antics of a well-meaning, likeable young hero will enjoy this book.
Reviewer Angela Crowther

David Laws has been a national newspaper journalist for many years in London and Manchester. He previously worked as a reporter for local newspapers and as a writer and editor for magazines dealing with film, medicine, travel and finance. Now he’s writing novels about his favourite historical period - before, during and after the two world wars.

Angela Crowther is a retired scientist.  She has published many scientific papers but, as yet, no crime fiction.  In her spare time Angela belongs to a Handbell Ringing group, goes country dancing and enjoys listening to music, particularly the operas of Verdi and Wagner.

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