First published on June 1st 2011 by Matador Books, then as a Kindle edition on September 3rd 2015 by London Wall Publishing, then as a paperback in November 2016 by the same publisher, Princes Gate is gaining renewed attention as Merlin at War, the third volume in the Frank Merlin mysteries, is scheduled for publication this October. (The second novel, Stalin’s Gold, was also reissued by London Wall in Nov. 2016.)
Throughout this series, DCI (Detective Chief Investigator) Frank Merlin of Scotland Yard investigates domestic crimes in London during World War II. In Princes Gate, the story is set in the early months of 1940 when Neville Chamberlain was still Prime Minister and the Luftwaffe bombing of Britain had not yet begun.
Political concerns make Merlin’s investigations rather delicate as he’s looking into the murders of two staff members of the U.S. embassy when Joseph P. Kennedy was ambassador. Merlin’s higher-ups don’t want the detective to rock any boats as they’re hopeful the U.S. will come to their aid in the war with Germany. This, despite the fact Kennedy is against any war with the Nazis at all, as he feels Britain has no chance.
This history provides a backdrop to Merlin and his team’s investigations which include many sensitive interviews with diplomatic officials and their contacts, sojourns into seedy London nightclubs, and interviews in London businesses, apartments, and homes. I’ve read one review of the book which called it “atmospheric.” That descriptor is spot on. Clearly, Ellis has immersed himself in the place and time of his Merlin books and takes the reader to that setting with convincing and vivid details from Merlin’s shoes to the music of the era to the geopolitical debates of the times. Unlike the sequels to Princes Gate, there’s no espionage plot this time around. But we do witness hanky panky and dastardly deeds by individuals from both the highest of the higher and the lowest of the lower classes.
This attention to detail also applies to many of the characters, both primary and supporting. We learn much about the Anglo-Spanish Merlin, as with his ongoing grief for his dead wife. I must admit, I never understood the role of Detective Claire Robinson. After she’s assigned to Merlin’s team by her uncle, Merlin’s boss, she contributes very little to anything in the various investigations. On the other hand, we get a very satisfying conclusion, even if some justice comes by way of a much higher authority than Scotland Yard. Me, I’ve read two of the Merlin books so far—Stalin’s Gold is next. For those who are just now being drawn into the Merlin series, my review of Merlin at War first appeared at BookPleasures.com on Aug. 3, 2017
This review of Princes Gate first appeared at BookPleasures.com on Aug. 14, 2017 at