Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
This book is a great examples of why I love historicals. Clearly this was well-researched, with no irritating anachronisms, and I felt like I was right there in inter-war England. The language is so very appropriate – not only the dialogue, but the somewhat formal prose as well. The attitudes towards women who had only recently been granted the right to vote, the general feeling of the public about the aftermath of the war and how veterans were regarded, the frequent references to the Spanish flu that ended up killing over a quarter of a million people in the UK – so many authentic details! It was easy to completely immerse myself in the era, and in the story. I’ve read several of Ms. Merrow’s contemporaries, and I really enjoyed them, and I feel doing such an excellent job at a historical just showcases her versatility as an author
The story is told from the point of view of Roger Cottingham. He was a conscientious objector – “conchie” – who was imprisoned for a year at the beginning of the war and then went to work as a cryptographer in the Admiralty. While there, his brother Hugh was killed on the front lines. Hugh’s fiancée, Mabel, started hearing rumors after the Armistice that Hugh’s death might have been the result of treason, and Roger vowed to help her find the man/men responsible, and bring them to justice.
Enlisting the help of an old friend from the intelligence section of the Admiralty, Roger finds suspicious circumstances surrounding another officer in Hugh’s regiment, Captain Matthew Connaught. Roger’s friend can investigate no further, but he did encourage Roger to do a little spying of his own, and set him up with the perfect cover: George Johnson, who rented a room in the same house Matthew lived in.
Matthew actually was a rather simple character. He is a veteran who lost his right arm, but managed to maintain a cheerful and optimistic attitude in spite of that. He just exudes friendliness and integrity, and Roger can’t help but like and admire him – but what does this mean when he is supposed to be spying on Matthew and finding out his wartime secrets? I loved the struggle Roger/George had trying to reconcile what he instinctively knew to be true – Matthew is a decent man who would never have betrayed his fellow brother-in-arms – with his desire to find out what really happened to Hugh when Matthew was the only clue he had. Roger’s struggle only intensified when he realized that not only was Matthew also an invert (homosexual), but that they were attracted to each other. Roger was also fundamentally an honest, forgiving, and peace-loving man, uncomfortable with the duplicity he had to maintain to continue his undercover role, and he spent a good part of the book grappling with those feelings.
The book is primarily character driven, rather than plot driven. When the mystery was finally revealed, it really wasn’t a surprise to anyone – the characters or the reader. Learning the different facets of Roger and Matthew as they traveled this journey towards a relationship was my whole enjoyment of the book. The period details just made it all even better. The only thing I didn’t like was that Matthew was a little too one-dimensional, but Roger almost made up for that.
Just for fun, check out this really interesting little tidbit of history that was briefly referenced in the book: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_feather. I love learning new things when reading fiction!
The expression of the model used for the cover art by Written Ink Designs was just about perfect for how I imagined Roger would feel.
Kindle Edition, 200 pages
Published May 6th 2017 by JMS Books LLC (first published September 15th 2015)