The Innocent Spy
In wartime London, Detective Stratton is investigating the death of silent screen star Mabel Morgan. Although it appears to be the work of a Soho gangster, he soon finds himself immersed in the shadowy world of counter espionage. At the same time, beautiful Diana Calthrop flees a stifling marriage to take a job in government, only to be pursued by a womanizing double agent and eventually recruited as a spy herself by her boss. This man becomes the link that ties Stratton and Diana together in a sordid, many-faceted investigation that is as murky as a blacked out London night.
This is a mystery that could only be written in England. It is longish, overflowing with exposition, delving into the minutiae of the daily lives of its two main characters without restraint. Indeed the reader can never be sure if it is about the plodding Stratton, the conflicted Diana, or even the plot at hand, which seems at times almost incidental. That’s not to say the work isn’t well written – it is. The characterizations are first rate, and the historical context rings true. The story can be absorbing. But in the end there is something unsatisfying about it. Realistic, perhaps, but disappointing in its resolution, like an investment that doesn’t quite pay off as one would have liked.
Colin Dexter was a master at this sort of thing, but at least one liked the complex and brooding Morse. I found it difficult to warm to either Stratton or Diana. Worse, I’m not sure it really matters.