December 1938. Moscow. Josef Stalin has lost some gold. He is not a happy man. He asks his henchman Beria to track it down.
September 1940 London. Above the city the Battle of Britain rages and the bombs rain down. On the streets below, DCI Frank Merlin and his officers investigate the sudden disappearance of Polish RAF pilot Ziggy Kilinski while also battling an epidemic of looting unleashed by the chaos and destruction of the Blitz.
Kilinski’s fellow pilots, a disgraced Cambridge don, Stalin’s spies in London, members of the Polish government in exile and a ruthless Russian gangster are amongst those caught up in Merlin’s enquiries. Sweeping from Stalin’s Russia to Civil War Spain, from Aztec Mexico to pre-war Poland, and from Hitler’s Berlin to Churchill’s London a compelling story of treasure, grand larceny, treachery, torture and murder unfolds. Eventually as Hitler reluctantly accepts that the defiance of the RAF has destroyed his chances of invasion for the moment, a violent shoot-out in Hampstead leads Merlin to the final truth….and Stalin to his gold.
It has been well over two years since Mark Ellis released his debut novel Princes Gate, an introduction to Frank Merlin set in February 1940; however in Stalin’s Gold we re-join Merlin and his colleagues seven months later in September 1940. London is under attack, not only from the air but on land by a gang of looters determined to make the most of the opportunity to steal luxury items from bombed out buildings. It’s up to Frank Merlin to solve the crimes and keep his boss – AC Gatehouse – happy. Not an easy task!
The great thing about this book, and it’s no different to the author’s first offering, is that you are immediately transferred to London at the height of bombing, close your eyes and you are there. You get a real sense of what it was like to live in those troubled times where good quality food was scarce – for the working class at least – and walking the streets of London a lottery, not only from the bombs but the falling debris left in its wake.
Atmospheric and wonderfully written the narrative really does everything it should to give the reader a feel for that period and along with a plethora of terrifically compelling characters it works really well. A complex story, it takes a while for all the pieces to unravel but unravel it does. It never felt rushed and the pace is for the most part spot on. There were a couple of parts where I found it a little laboured but that was more a point of getting to grips with the foreign names in the Polish community!
The winner for me this time around is not Merlin but the aforementioned Polish community in exile and the atmospheric accounts of a war torn London. Don’t get me wrong, there’s more than enough of Merlin to satisfy – I would have liked more between Frank and AC Gatehouse as experiences in Princes Gate – but for me it was all about Battle of Britain, the Poles and the bombing!
Another gripping tale from a talented author, let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long for the next book, who knows it won’t be long before Pearl Harbour is attacked by the Japanese and Frank will have something else to occupy his time! Highly recommended and thoroughly entertaining.
- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Matador (1 Feb 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1783062479
- ISBN-13: 978-1783062478