Set against a terrific backdrop of Europe on the cusp of the Second World War, Where Dead Men Meet by Mark Mills is a compelling novel, rich in adventure, espionage, secrets, and lies (available May 30, 2017).
The dust of war is spreading across a divided Europe in 1937. A late night visit to an orphanage by a man with dark deeds on his mind sets the scene for Where Dead Men Meet. Mark Mills writes in a very composed and concise way, which allows the characters to unfold in an extremely untroubled fashion. Yet despite the slick, sophisticated style, there is still a grittiness in the narrative that ensures all palates will be satisfied.
The balance he achieves in his writing results in a thriller that takes you back to the smoke and mirrors of the years leading up to the Second World War. Luke Hamilton, a junior air intelligence officer at the British Embassy, receives a letter from his father. Bad news awaits him as he slits the envelope open. But this is just the start of a rollercoaster ride for the young Hamilton as he tries to stay one step ahead of those who would do him harm.
All roads seem to lead back to Luke Hamilton’s childhood and his upbringing in an orphanage. The answers are there, but the past is an unwilling participant in the quest for truth—particularly if your life depends on unearthing things that others may prefer remain unknown.
Death comes swiftly to many in this book, whether it be at the end of a knife or a bullet from a gun. It was a time of death, but life always glimmered in the background like an extra in a film waiting to step forward into the starring role. One thing is for certain, a successful outcome is less guaranteed if you try to go it alone:
Only once they were outside did Fautrier finally release his iron grip on Luke’s arm. “This way,” he said, casting a glance over his shoulder and making off down the boulevard. “Don’t run. Walk. And don’t talk. Just breathe deeply. You’re in shock.”
It was a balmy night, and a young man wearing khaki trousers and a short-sleeved shirt was strolling towards them, hands in his pockets. Fautrier picked up the pace, leveling his pistol directly at the man’s head.
“On the ground! Face down!” He ordered in French.
The young man spread-eagled himself on the pavement. Fautrier pinned him in place with a knee and searched him for a weapon, all the while keeping an eye out for anyone else drawing close. Satisfied, he finally stood up. “Go,” he ordered.
The young man took off like a rabbit in the direction of L’Hirondelle, where a small crowd of wary diners was beginning to gather out front.
The car was parked on a side street off the boulevard. Fautrier instructed Luke to lie on the floor in the back and stay out of sight. Then he fired the engine and pulled away.
“Where’s your passport?”
“P-passport?” It was the first word Luke had spoken since Fernando sat himself down at the stranger’s table in the restaurant.
“Where is it?”
“At work. At the embassy.”
“That’s good—they’ll have someone at your apartment.”
“Who are ‘they’? In fact, who the bloody hell are you?” he added, on a tide of fear-fueled indignation.
“I’m the man who just saved your life. Now, shut up. I need to know if we’re being followed.”
There were a particular style and way of speaking then that is not easy to replicate in dialogue and narrative, but the author captures it perfectly while composing a timeless murder mystery that fits in any age. The characters reach out from the page and beckon you to join them in this fast-moving thriller. They draw you into a time that was dangerous, scary, unsettling, revolting, and exciting.
There's chaotic mix of sensations that would overwhelm the narrative in the hands of a less-skilled writer. But in Where Dead Men Meet, there are no false elements in the creation of the personalities that drive the story. Everyone is believable, strong, finely drawn, and interesting. Your attention is never taken from the page, as each dagger, bullet, and fist comes flying.
Luke Hamilton is an engaging central character, yet he never dominates the story at the expense of other characters who make up this veritable feast of a book. The ending is never telegraphed and keeps you engrossed right to the very end. The book is impossible to put down. Do yourself a service and grab a copy when this hits the shelves. You won’t regret it.
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Dirk Robertson is a Scots thriller writer, currently in Virginia where he is promoting literacy and art projects for young gang members. When not writing, tweeting, or blogging on the Mystery Writers of America website, he designs and knits clothes and handbags from recycled rubbish.