Fifth Column is the second in The Blitz Detective series by Mike Hollow. The Blitz Detective series features Inspector Jago, a methodical and thoughtful investigator who fought in World War I, the War That Didn’t End All Wars.
Integral to the story, the London Blitz was the massive air assault on Britain by the German air force. It was a time of nightly trials of anxiety and fear as people huddled in shelters, hearing the explosions surrounding them, hoping that it won’t hit them. The center of London is as dark at night as the middle of a forest with blackout curtains at the doors and windows to guard against light leaks. Lighting a cigarette on the open street could result in a fine. It is a time of high anxiety, rife with suspicion. The war is not going well and everyone knows that many people supported the Germans before the war. Are they supporting them still, operating as a fifth column to help an invading force? Are they spying? Of course they are, but who are the spies? Neighbors, co-workers? It could be anyone.
In that fraught atmosphere, a woman is found dead at a bombed out building. It is soon clear that she was not killed by an impersonal bomb but a very personal murderer and Jago is tasked to find the killer.
This is a procedural mystery, so Inspector Jago is aided by his associates, in particular Craddock, whom he tries to mentor, encouraging him with hints about how to question people, how to look at evidence and cautioning him against jumping to conclusions.
Mary, the victim, worked at a factory that produces some things for the war effort. Was her murder war-related or more personal. That is up to Jago and his colleagues to figure out.
This is a fair mystery that follows the rules of the Detection Club. We are given the information the detectives are given. When we are not given that information at the same moment as the detectives, we have enough to infer correctly the name that Hollow chooses not to name at that moment. Moreover, it is revealed shortly after. There are quite a few multiple links between people, meeting people at a dance club, so many who work at the same place and so on. This seems a lot of coincidences stacking on each other, however, they do not seem impossible. For all the criminality, bombing and so on, the pace is very steady. Inspector Jago is obviously the tortoise who wins the race by being methodical, purposeful and thoughtful.
There is a strong sense of place, the claustrophobic anxiety of those dark, blackout nights. We get a sense, too, of the culture and the resiliency of the people. I enjoyed Fifth Column and plan to read back to the first in the series, Direct Hit.
I received my copy of Fifth Column from LibraryThing’s monthly giveaway.
- Mike Hollow at Lion Hudson Press