Published by Corvus
4 February 2021.
Fired by his currently favourite book, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide subtitled How to See Europe by the Skin of Your Teeth, eighteen-year-old Phil is all set for the freedom of the open road, on a gap year with his mate Mike. However, the funds saved for the trip have now been confiscated by Phil’s father to pay for a new car following Phil’s encounter with a Bedford van. Relating this to his grandmother who has dropped in for lunch on her way home to Cornwall, Phil discovers he has an ally. She says that she has been thinking for some time of driving around Europe visiting some of her old haunts - Paris, Berlin. Places she and her husband Roland were posted to before the war. Maybe 1979 is a good time to do it before I get too old, she says. Phil can be my driver, for which I will cover all his expenses.
As they embark on their journey, she tells Phil a little of her life in 1934 when she was nineteen and living with her parents in Chaddington Hall, Devon and inparticular her beloved elder brother Hugh. Daughter of a Lord, Emma with her mother did the London season seeking to secure Emma a husband. Being clever and outspoken her season was not a success, and soon she was back at Chaddington Hall.
In his second year at Cambridge Hugh told Emma he has totally embraced communism and wanted to visit Russia. Then, on a recent visit home, he recanted leaving Emma feeling abandoned and unsure. When she learned that Hugh had taken up a position that compromised all he had told her he believed in, she is devastated, even though he insisted that he was still a socialist. It is while she is in this state of mind that she met Roland Meeke, a diplomat who had taken a cottage on the estate for a couple of weeks to go hunting. Then Hugh is killed, and Emma is distraught. It was during this time when Emma is numb with grief that Roland Meeke proved a good friend to all the family and within a few months Roland proposed marriage to Emma and she accepted.
So, Emma became the wife of a Diplomat and entered the embassy circles of Paris and Nazi Berlin. When old friends of Hugh’s appear and ask to report on certain people, she enters a dangerous game.
The story switches back to 1979, and as Emma and Phil travel through Europe, Phil becomes aware that the places they are visiting, and the people Emma is enquiring after are maybe taking them into dangerous territory. The Cold War is very cold, and the people they are talking to could spell danger for them. Eventually Emma admits she is trying to solve a mystery, but she doesn’t specify what the mystery is. But death is following them.
The characterisation is excellent, the story intriguing, it is one of those books that once you start reading you cannot put down until you have devoured it all.
I have enjoyed all Michael Ridpath’s books, his financial
thrillers, and the Icelandic police procedurals. He is the consummate storyteller. This book is highly recommended.
Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett