This is a very clever story, tautly written and tightly told: you’ll be handcuffed to the plot by the end of chapter one and bound tightly to the book until the last page. So don’t start reading it unless your evenings are fairly free for the next few days.
At first, I wondered if the early wartime setting might be, frankly, a bit of a gimmick. It isn’t. Simon Scarrow paints a fascinating picture of what civilian life was like in Hitler’s Berlin once hostilities had been declared but before the actual fighting – stunningly successful at first for the Nazis – had begun. This was the so-called phoney war; blackout without bombs. But what crimes flourished under the cover of this sudden darkness! What opportunities for evil to stalk the streets. Scarrow’s story makes full use of the long blackness of a winter’s night in Hitler’s heartland long ago.
Criminal Inspector Horst Schenke is a hugely likeable creation – a wartime German with a conscience, standards, and a visceral detestation of the thugs who now run his beloved country, and have pitched it into a reckless world war./p>
Dangerously – for himself – Schenke simply refuses to join the Nazi party or the SS, a sure route to promotion and favour taken by less principled colleagues. He simply cannot bring himself to do it. His superiors hold him in increasing suspicion. And to be suspected by the Nazi elite is potentially deadly: disloyalty means arrest in the night and a bullet in the back of the head by morning.
So, when Schenke is told by the head of the Gestapo – Germany’s feared secret police – to solve a murder (committed during the blackout) of a beautiful actress with links to the regime, he knows he’s on the thinnest of thin ice. And when a second victim is discovered, his investigation takes him perilously close to the black heart of Nazi power.
A Beautiful Spy follows Minnie on her journey to the heart of a hugely secret organisation with hidden links to the Kremlin. The Russians are infamous for liquidating traitors, and that’s what Minnie risks as her double life puts her under almost impossible mental strain.
This is an old-fashioned murder mystery with a fantastic twist. Enjoy.