Allison & Busby, 2020. ISBN: 978-0-74902672-1 (PB)
It is September 1940 and London is
being subjected to successive bombing attacks by the German Luftwaffe. East Enders are suffering more than most by
virtue of the docks which are a prime target for the enemy. Detective Inspector John Jago knows the area
well. He was born and bred there and now
works out of the police station at West Ham.
Jago’s usual partner, Detective Sergeant Clark, a reservist, has been
called up to fight in France and was recently replaced by Constable Peter
Cradock. The young DC clearly revels in
his promotion but is finding it hard to strike the right balance with his new
boss. Whatever their reservations about
each other however, they simply have to get on with the job and they soon have
an opportunity to do just that.
During a fierce air raid in
Plaistow, Warden Ron Davies finds a dead body at the wheel of a van parked by
the roadside. The warden suspects foul
play and orders a passing ARP messenger to contact the police. Jago and Cradock make their way to the scene. On their arrival, Jago recognises the dead
man as Mr Charles Villiers, a successful businessman who is also a local
magistrate. Villiers has three visible
wounds and a knife lying in the van is retrieved, but before the detectives can
make a more thorough inspection the aerial bombardment recommences and forces them
to take cover. To their horror a direct
hit destroys both the vehicle and its occupant.
With no body and precious little evidence, Jago’s detective divisional
inspector is reluctantly persuaded to allow his officers to investigate the
It quickly transpires that
Villiers and his wife were less than content in their marriage and Jago begins
to suspect that the Justice of the Peace might not be as law abiding as his
position would suggest. As Villiers’
associations and shady dealings are revealed, so the list of those who might
have wished him dead grows. When a
second murder takes place, the situation is further complicated.
This is an unusual and
compelling novel with interesting characters whose lives attest to the
hardships of war. Indeed, the futility
and irony of war is a major theme that permeates the story. Jago is a complex and reflective protagonist. He still suffers from the traumas he endured during
the 1914 -18 conflict when he served as an officer in the trenches. Jago’s experiences link with another plot
that unfolds during the narrative and that focuses on far-left ideologies that attracted
support from sections of the population during the period. The obvious inequalities in British society
at the time are explored through the lives of two brothers and their widowed
mother. Jago’s empathy for the family is
often poignant without detracting from the DI’s determination to solve the
crime at the centre of the story.
The Blitz Detective is the
first in a series written by Mike Hollow.
The author’s affection for East London shines through the police
procedural. His research of the period and the people who inhabited the area
during World War II make for fascinating reading and never detract from the
intriguing plot. This is a thoughtful
novel, well-balanced, well-paced and well-crafted. I enjoyed it tremendously and look forward to
reading the sequel.
Reviewer: Dot Marshall-Gent
Mike Hollow was born in West Ham, on the eastern edge of London, and grew up in Romford, Essex. He studied Russian and French at the University of Cambridge and then worked for the BBC and later Tearfund. In 2002 he went freelance as a copywriter, journalist and editor. He's a published poet, and nowadays when not writing about the Blitz Detective he makes his living as a translator. He lives in Hampshire, England, with his wife Margaret.Dot Marshall-Gent worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties. She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues. Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction.