Autumn 1916; a German Zeppelin moves silently across the night sky before being shot down by an English fighter plane. Those brave enough to watch are cheering with ardent delight, but one man – Simon Wilder – cannot join in the celebrations, instead he takes his last breath drenched in his own blood.
The fifth in Edward Marston’s The Home Front Detective Series promises a lot. The Daily Mail emphatically explains Marston: “has tapped into a rich vein of inspiration,” and as newbie to his work I was hoping they would be right. I haven’t read the previous four of the series, so I was little concerned I would get lost amongst characters that should, after four books, be well established. We’ve all been there, you get a book only to find out it’s the second, third, or fourth, (place any number) in a series and, as you try to get into it you realise you can’t. It’s not because the writing or the story is no good, but instead it’s because you feel as if you are diving into a life that really you know nothing about, but it’s clear that you should. So the book gets put aside, waiting to the day you finally purchase the previous ones, which if you are anything like me you’ll forget to do.
My advice for this book, if you’ve not read the others, is don’t be ‘scared’ of it. Yes, there is some backstory you feel that you’re missing out on, but overall Marston has a way of pulling you in, not only into the story of murder, but also of the personal lives of the characters without ‘penalising’ you for not having read his other books.
Now, with that out of the way, onto the actual review.
Simon Wilder, a champion ballroom dancer is butchered in an alleyway – with no apparent witnesses around but a seemingly endless list of potential suspects, Detective Inspector Harvey Marmion and Sergeant Joe Keedy are on the hunt for the murderer. Under the beady, patronising eye of their superior Claude Chatfield, they find themselves thrown into the shady entertainment industry where lies, hatred, sex and scandal run rife amongst their ever-growing list of potential killers. With the added strain of their own intwined personal lives strained, the two find themselves in hot water both at home and on the job as they struggle to identify the killer.
Marston seems to be an expert at making you doubt yourself. That is the first thing. He really has got this inexplainable way of taking something you feel you believe in and turning it 180 degrees, until it couldn’t possibly be right. You find out you are indeed wrong, but in a completely different way to what you originally thought had made you wrong. It’s a confusing, and entertaining way of keeping you, the audience, enamoured with a story that quite frankly, once I got to the end, I felt had already been written time-and-time again. That doesn’t however mean it was a bad read, Marston’s ability to confuse and mislead means you won’t realise just how predictable the story is until you finish it, and you should finish it.
Having said you should finish it, there are perhaps a few things I should say before you start. Firstly, it’s an incredibly easy read – the dialogue feels extraordinary simply, which sometimes feels as though this book’s target reader is teen rather than adult. Secondly, it’s not complex – yes it’s confusing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean complex. If you are into deep and meaningful reads, although there is an element of the travesty of what World War One did to returning soldiers (in the form of Marmion’s son), this doesn’t really hit the spot. If you are also into books where you really have no idea whodunnit than this perhaps also isn’t for you. Yes it’s confusing, and Marston makes you doubt yourself – but if you are a crime novel extraordinaire,and you also tend to stick to your guns, then you might work this out at about the halfway point.
Having said that, I will be purchasing the first book in the series, as although the murder plot wasn’t my favourite I have become quite attached to the personal lives of some of the characters. I find I want to know more about them, which is where I think Marston’s talent truly lies. In a matter of a few hundred pages he has made you invest in the characters – brought them to life, and even if you didn’t think you would originally, he makes you want to know what happens. This book is certainly more than just a murder mystery, it brings to light real feelings and real common issues that people face daily. The backdrop of World War One certainly allows the story a more interesting set-up, and the use of bringing people back from war who are suffering is a large part of what makes this book compelling.
It might not be the best book I’ve ever read, but it certainly has a little something-something that is making me go back for more. This book is definitely a grower, stick with it and you’ll find it does get better.
Buy this book here.