When Hitler couldn’t get his own spies into London during the blitz, Germany tapped into a reservoir of British residents keen to see the Nazis prevail. Anthony Quinn’s crafty and atmospheric new thriller stealthily tracks these fifth columnists through the shadows and bombsites of wartime London.
It is March 1941, and Hitler is deluging the capital with his bombs, to Londoners’ mild irritation. The furtive Jack Hoste loses his flat to a direct hit, an inconvenience which does not detain him from his task of beetling around the country, gathering fragments of information for his Gestapo paymasters.
Miss Amy Strallan meanwhile, is running a “marriage bureau”, a sort of proto-Tinder, and she has a pal, a very enthusiastic friend of the Fatherland, whom Mr Hoste is keen to locate.
And so begins the agonising process of two adults having to talk to each other. For Mr Hoste may be adept at evaluating blueprints stolen from an aircraft factory, but as we later learn, “Love. Trust. This was the sort of conversation he dreaded.”
Indeed, rations of love and trust are scarcer than a decent steak, and suspicions that all is not as it should be, which begin to stir even before reaching the end of the title (“Friends in Berlin, you say?” *strokes chin*), rapidly accelerate to whatever colour code is used to signal critical.
This, then, is a novel about espionage and collaborators in wartime London, detailed with an eye for period that imbues it with the feel of the resolve-stiffening movies of the time.
But it is also about the perils of sharing – or witholding – information. And not just the class of intel that in the wrong hands could torpedo the entire war effort, but the whole tricky business of “opening up”.
Whereas today’s favoured comms platforms enable unprecedented levels of public unburdening, showing off and flaunting intimate details of one’s calorie intake, the London of “Our Friends” is a place where nobody dares tell anybody anything. No wonder they smoked so enthusiastically.
This review appeared in issue 3 of Strong Words. To buy the rest of the issue and have it sent to your house, click on this link.