Sunday, March 07, 2010

Mystery Book Review: The Information Officer by Mark Mills

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of The Information Officer by Mark Mills. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

The Information Officer by Mark Mills

by
Non-series

Random House (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-4000-6818-5 (1400068185)
ISBN-13: 978-1-4000-6818-0 (9781400068180)
Publication Date: February 2010
List Price: $25.00

Review: Set over the summer of 1942 on the island nation of Malta, and during an intense period of conflict in World War II, The Information Officer by Mark Mills effectively combines elements of a romantic thriller and a novel of international intrigue into what is, at its core, an intricately crafted and solidly plotted murder mystery.

Max Chadwick is the titular character, a British official responsible for managing (some might say manipulating) news reports on the status of the war effort in Malta. Located in a strategic position in the Mediterranean, Malta is one of the most heavily bombed places on the planet ... and the British, who are defending the island from an Italian invasion, are considering pulling out, leaving the island virtually defenseless. Due to a naval blockade, supplies of both everyday items and military arms on the island are in short supply. Chadwick knows it's his job to keep the opinion of the Maltese people on the side of their defenders for as long as possible, but that job becomes infinitely more difficult when he learns that three women have recently been murdered ... and the prime suspect is a British submariner. Withholding key information from his superiors and the public, he begins his own investigation into the crimes, only to risk not only his own life but that of the woman he loves.

Mills lays a strong foundation for his story by creating a most likeable character in Max Chadwick, about whom all the action revolves. Early in the book, Chadwick reflects on his current situation, asking himself, "[W]hat had become of that well-meaning young man dreaming of a bright future in a top firm of architects. It seemed impossible to him that he could have traveled from that to this in such a brief time, from an airy studio in the Architectural Association to a Mediterranean bomb site, from enthusiastic student to cynical military official." The other principal characters are equally well developed. A lot of history is presented, but it's done so in such as way that it seems integral to the plot, and not just as background material. The whodunit aspect is particularly noteworthy, the killer's identity in the end a surprise and yet, in retrospect, it probably shouldn't have been, clever and subtle misdirection always the hallmark of a superior mystery.

Special thanks to Random House for providing a copy of The Information Officer for this review.

Review Copyright © 2010 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved

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Synopsis (from the publisher): Summer 1942: Malta, a small windswept island in the Mediterranean, has become the most bombed patch of earth on the planet, worse even than London during the Blitz. The Maltese, a fiercely independent people, withstand the relentless Axis air raids.

Max Chadwick is the British officer charged with manipulating the news on Malta to bolster the population's fragile esprit de corps. This is all, besides a few broken-down fighter planes, that stands in the face of Nazi occupation and perhaps even victory—for Malta is the stepping-stone the Germans need between Europe and North Africa.

When Max learns of the brutal murder of a young island woman—along with evidence that the crime was committed by a British officer—he knows that the Maltese loyalty to the war effort could be instantly shattered. As the clock ticks down toward all-out invasion, Max must investigate the murder—beyond the gaze of his superiors, friends, and even the woman he loves.

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