RogerBW's Blog

The Enemy Within, Edward Marston 27 July 2018

2017 historical detective fiction, sixth of Marston's novels of Inspector Harvey Marmion. In 1917, as the War drags on, Wally Hubbard breaks out of Pentonville and searches for the man who seduced and abandoned his daughter. But that isn't Marmion's only problem.

All right, probably I shouldn't have started the series with book six; I think someone recommended it to me. But I have no particular reason to care about the travails of Marmion and his family, because I'm meeting them here for the first time and Marston doesn't spend much effort on making them appealing; as a hypothetical series reader, I suppose, I'm already meant to feel interested.

But even without that drawback, the book isn't all that great. The attitudes and even language of Marmion and his family, and even of his unsympathetic superior officer, are relentlessly modern: he regrets not having been more available to his family during his son's youth (before the son went off to war and came back with shell-shock), his wife is constantly going on about getting "support" from him, everyone thinks it's a bit excessive to intern tens of thousands of foreigners living in England purely on suspicion… and while people may of course have had this kind of attitude, and some of them certainly did, it seems to me that it should at least have been treated as something unexpected that one wouldn't casually share with one's workmates, rather than something where everyone who mentions it at all feels the same way. I know that the writer of historical novels needs to modernise the attitudes at least of their protagonists in order not to lose their readers' sympathy, but this was just too much for me.

Much more interesting to me was the three-sided relationship (not a romantic triangle) between Hubbard, a barmaid he used to work with, and an old business partner who's his friend but reluctant to get involved; there are some really interestingly-drawn psychological dynamics here, and I found myself with rather more sympathy for these one-off characters than for the series regulars.

It's a shame there's no real resolution to that story; various ongoing events are left unresolved at the end of the book, while the main plot is brought to an end with almost indecent haste. There are too many plot strands, and some of them get rather too little time while others get too much. There's very little mystery for the reader to solve.

Followed by Under Attack, but I have no plans to read it.

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