Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I did not know when I read Eleventh Hour 3 years ago that there would be a sequel. Three years, for me, is plenty of time to forget a book that wasn’t a standout, especially when I’m not waiting for a sequel. Well, I remembered this book, and these characters, and was very excited to see they were coming back for another adventure! This is another action story with espionage, danger, exotic locales including – wait for it – the Orient Express! And, of course, silk stockings and fabulous frocks for my favorite cross dressing spy.
1931. London. A time of considerable political unrest in Europe, with the rise of the fascists in Italy and the Nazis in Germany, and Britain trying to determine who were allies and who enemies. Miles Seward, linguist, cipher clerk, and occasional cross-dressing spy, received an encoded message from his mother, stationed at the British embassy in Bucharest. She was in danger, and he embarked upon what was supposed to be a quick and simple extraction to bring her back to London. The stakes were much higher than either of them thought, and they were immediately ambushed on their way to the air strip. Fortunately, Miles brought the accoutrements for his transformation into his alter ego, Millie, and with some quick thinking they escaped Bucharest and made their way to Belgrade, where Briers Allerdale was stationed undercover. Miles and Briers had maintained and deepened the relationship they started three years earlier during their joint mission in London, and despite the peril, working together as Brian and Millie Carstairs was a true pleasure.
The rest of the story is a classic high class spy adventure – evening dress and beautiful jewelry, aristocrats, luxury trains, explosions, car chases, gunfights, witty banter, blackmail – as Miles, Lady Siward, and Briers made their way across Europe to deliver the secrets Lady Siward had so carefully guarded to British Intelligence in London. It was more than a little over the top, to me reminiscent of a James Bond adventure – Roger Moore rather than Daniel Craig – but I loved it anyway. As in the first book, alongside the adventure was the romance between Miles and Briers. There was actually a little more emphasis on the romance in this book than in the first, with both men considering what life might be like if they were out of the intelligence game. What life could be like together. And again, the complex role that Millie played in both the men’s psyches.
The cast of secondary characters included some old friends from book one – including Falk, the German spy once again temporarily allied with them but with his own agenda – as well as new ones including several clever and kick ass women. Millie wasn’t the only woman who was strong and resourceful and took no crap from men. Lady Siward, her secretary-cum-bodyguard, and the American actress were all courageous, intelligent, and the type of female character I think we need to see more of in historical fiction.
Once again, overall an excellent read. Beautiful descriptions of scenery, strong characters, fast pace, humor, with well researched historical details and period appropriate dialogue and slang. There is also what I considered to be a mostly satisfying ending that makes it clear this time there WILL be a sequel. Which I am eagerly looking forward to, and hoping it doesn’t take another 3 years to come out!
Cover art by Manifold Press implies a darker and more serious story, but the train was totally appropriate.
Kindle Edition, 210 pages
Published March 14th 2019
SeriesThe Carstairs Affairs #2
Characters Miles Siward, Briers Allerdale
Carstairs Affairs Series: