Mills, Mark - 'The Information Officer'
THE INFORMATION OFFICER is Mark Mills' third novel - and his best. It is far more accessible than his debut AMAGANSETT (later re-titled THE WHALEBOAT HOUSE) and just as densely atmospheric as his bestselling THE SAVAGE GARDEN but with more pace and a heightened sense of danger and suspense. It must be a strong contender this year in both the CWA Dagger and Ellis Peters Historical award categories.
Set in the early summer of 1942 on the besieged island of Malta the Information Officer in question is the young British officer assigned to propaganda and public relations in an attempt to keep up morale as the tiny, but strategically vital, island suffers constant bombing and lives in fear of invasion. His job gets suddenly harder when he realises that a sex-killer is murdering local Maltese girls and all the circumstantial evidence points to the killer being a British officer - quite possibly the husband of the woman the Information Officer is having an affair with.
Could Max Chadwick's life get any more complicated? Oh yes. As he is drawn, personally and professionally, into the hunt for the killer (aided by a wonderfully seedy Maltese policeman) it emerges that the murderer could also be a German agent with an additional agenda beyond sadistic gratification, which might just explain the desire of the military high command to hush things up.
The engine room of this book is the serial-killer/double agent plot but its real heart is in the fabulously vivid descriptions of Malta under siege, especially the constant air raids which are almost poetically described, and a sumptuous cast of characters sympathetically drawn, warts and all, and all very human, very believable.
There are outstandingly memorable scenes - the insights into the mind of the killer, tender and passionate love affairs, the incongruity of war as two characters hit golf balls at low flying German fighters, the dust and grime as the island is bombed into powder, the heroism of the anti-aircraft gun crews, the inter-service rivalry and snobbery of the officer classes - all of which show what a fantastically good writer Mark Mills is.
THE INFORMATION OFFICER is a good thriller, a stunning book about human beings surviving under extreme circumstances, an eye-opener for anyone who didn't know the 'Malta story' and a master-class in fluent storytelling.
Yes, it's that good.
Mike Ripley, England
Mike Ripley is the author of the 'Angel' series and writer of a monthly Getting Away With Murder column for Shots Ezine. Over the past 20 years he had reviewed over 950 crime novels and thrillers and currently lectures on crime writing for Cambridge University's Institute of Continuing Education.