A Storm in the Blood
As the cover blurb for this novel points out, it is not difficult to draw parallels between the Siege of Sidney Street in 1911 and more recent terrorist atrocities – the Iranian Embassy siege, the murder of Yvonne Fletcher, the Bishopsgate bomb, 7/7. In December 1910, a Latvian revolutionary group murdered three unarmed policemen in Houndsditch. The murderers were finally tracked down to a house in Sidney Street, where they were besieged by hundreds of heavily armed troops under the direction of the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill. London was in the grip of a wary xenophobia, its population terrified of anarchists and the new breed of Communists, uneasy at the presence in the city of growing numbers of Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe. The refugees kept to themselves, in their own communities, speaking their own languages and eating the food they were accustomed to in cafes visited by few outsiders.
While the modern parallels serve to draw the reader into the novel, Fink largely ignores them and immerses himself in the story of the siege as experienced by his mixed cast of fictional and historical characters. There is no heavy-handed moralising here about the circularity of history. The novel is thoroughly researched and the atmosphere of the Jewish East End in the early years of the 20th century is lovingly created. The pace, however, is a little slow and unvarying, making this a workmanlike and enjoyable read but not a brilliant one.