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Why this book
Having read and enjoyed several of the books in this series about Lord Edward Corinth and Verity Browne I couldn't resist giving this one a go when I saw it in the library the other week.
About the author
The author David Roberts had a background in publishing as an editor prior to becoming a full time writer in 2000. His books are crime novels set in the 1930's he has only to my knowledge written the Lord Edward Corinth and Verity Browne series.
About the series
Sweet Poison is the first book in the Lord Edward Corinth and Verity Browne series. As such this book serves to introduce these characters to the reader. These novels are set in the 1930's against the backdrop of world events that lead up to the Second World War. There is a huge period feel to these novels with lots of political intrigue not least because Verity Browne is a Communist. Both her and Lord Edward Corinth work together as a team to solve various crimes. Despite their political differences there is a spark of romance and respect between these two characters. But the romance element to the books is a footnote really it is the murders and the politics of the time that take centre stage.
Throughout the series of books Roberts writes with a depth of knowledge about the powder keg of torment that was the 1930's. This was where fascism and Communism all tried to hold centre stage in the lives of ordinary people. The ostrich mentality of the ruling parties and the every day citizens of Britain to the struggles within Germany Spain and Austria prior to the Second World War are penned beautifully.
About the book
Set in 1938 the book takes place in both England and Austria. At the start of the book Verity is in Austria working as a journalist trying to cover how the Austrians view the approaching Germany and Nazi party. As the Nazi party takes over Austria Verity is deported but not before she arranged for a young Jew Georg Dreiser to escape to England. Meanwhile back in England Edward is invite to an afternoon at Lord Mountbatten's house where he and his nephew discover in the grounds the body of a painter. A short time later at a Polo Match at Lord Mountbatten's house Georg is found death. The novel takes you through the duo's investigations to find out are the two deaths linked. Are the accidents or something more sinister? Will the investigation bring the estranged couple back together?
The period detail in this book is superb and very detailed, so much so that parts of this book make for an uncomfortable read. The bits that I found hard to read about was the way some of the Austrian people welcomed the Nazi's and how the Jewish people and their shops were treated as the party marched into Vienna. This as the authors note at the end tells me was referred to as the "Night of the Broken Glass" this was when 367 synagogues were destroyed as well as the shop windows. The author captures in a heart breaking detail the appalling effect this has on Verity and how scared this makes her feel as someone who the Nazi party will also disapprove of. The effect that getting involved in the evacuation of the Jewish children has on Edward his family and Verity is very emotional and moving to read about.
The pace of this novel is well timed in that this is a reflection on the deaths and what has happened to these individuals. As such the deaths do occur very early in the book and even on the book dust jacket it even tells you who dies so I don't think I have spoilt the story by telling who dies in this review.
The story alternates between the narratives of Edward and Verity; although I think the majority of it is from Edward's perspective as such the book has a very male feel to the narrative.
The development of the Edward's worries and concerns about events in the World are a subject of a lot of his thoughts in this novel. Especially as he wonders what he should do when war breaks out as he feels too old to be a solider and wonders if he should be in the spy game.
The inclusion of historical figures is something that is very hard to get right in a novel I find as the weaving of historical fact and fiction is a difficult job. The inclusion of both Churchill and Mountbatten add to the story line in different ways and sometimes I think it has worked well and other I am less sure about. For example I am not sure if Churchill giving relationship advice to Verity is something I find plausible really. I don't know enough about Mountbatten and his wife to know if them both having an affair is something that is historically accurate or not. But it is used as a good device by the author to show the impact of their actions on events at his house so even if it's not true I am happy for this to happen within this novel.
These novels have been compared to Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane series. Having read several books by her and books in this series I think the comparison is justified in this book.
One of the things I do like about this novel is the way he has Edward and Verity discuss their thoughts and theories about the deaths and this I found helped me try to solve the puzzles of their deaths too.
The ending is a little unexpected and unconventional and though it did feel that the right thing to happen it did leave a bit of a bitter taste in the mouth.
A wonderful mystery novel set against the backdrop of events prior to the Second World War. It has lots of period detail that will stir the emotions. I would recommend this book to murder mystery fans.
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Robinson Publishing (25 Oct 2007)
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