A modern take on classic espionage.
At the start of World War II a British battleship mysteriously explodes at anchor inside a well defended home port. Given a final chance to resurrect a failed career, Intelligence Officer Richard Kast uncovers troubling evidence of espionage but his superiors whitewash the investigation and the attacks continue.
Without friends and unable to trust colleagues, Kast's pursuit of an elusive and unseen enemy becomes intensely personal, a jaded ex-boxer's stubborn physicality and resolve against the beguiling acumen and mischief of a master German spy in a shifting, deadly duel which weaves science, theater and early BBC television around real events. At stake, disclosure of illegal aid agreements between Churchill and FDR which threaten America's entry into the war and possession of a new device which revolutionizes radar and shifts the strategic balance of the war.
Similar societal outcasts, one man seeks redemption and the other retribution. Both alternate between hunter and hunted. Neither knows or expects quarter.
Mischief is reminiscent of the spy stories popular in the mid-20th century. Like those heavy-handed dramas, it plays on both the realistic fears of war -- espionage and betrayal -- and the emotional horrors that followed WWII veterans home. The lines are crisp -- black is black and white is white. However, sometimes white is only a disguise for black and evil hides around every corner. Within a few pages, the reader realizes that a duel between the righteous and the dark side is inevitable.
Set early in World War II, the book begins with the destruction of The Oak, a British battleship, in her home berth. Protagonist Richard Kast pits his physical and intellectual skills against an enemy who inflicts many bloody nicks -- building fear and suspicion in his victims. Qualities that in peacetime might seem obnoxious but not particularly threatening -- like self interest and expediancy -- turn lethal in times of crisis. The author focuses on his characters weaknesses as well as their strengths. Like all spy thrillers, there's a secret technology that will change the course of the war if it gets into the wrong hands...raising the stakes in this game beyond that of the fate of the hero and villain.
This book is appropriate for those who enjoy action superimposed over a historical background or for those who appreciate the traditional spy genre. However, this is not light reading. The author's style seems old-fashioned given modern audiences' fondness for television and big screen plots that get in, make a point, and end within 40 and 90 minutes respectively. There is a great deal of background description and the author relies more on narrative than dialogue. This approach does fit with American perceptions of 1940s British "stiff-upper lip" culture and language.
There's plenty of action and the novel ends the only way that it could.
Reviewed by: Joyce Faulkner (2012)