Island Reich

Written by Jack Grimwood
Review by Jasmina Svenne

May 1940. Safe-cracker Bill O’Hagan wants nothing to do with the current war after his experiences in the previous one but, when a job goes wrong, the secret services are determined to recruit him for a very special mission. Meanwhile a Jewish girl on the run across Europe steals a dead girl’s identity, and American socialite and sleeper agent Daisy Renhou receives devastating news about her sister Lilly. As all three of these characters converge on the evacuated, German-occupied, Channel Island of Alderney, the Duke of Windsor takes refuge in neutral Portugal, increasingly convinced that his life is in danger from British secret services, while he is being wooed by Berlin to pull Britain out of the war. But who, if anyone, can he trust?

This spy thriller occupies the middle ground between the glamour of James Bond and the grittiness of John le Carré. For such a substantial novel, it reads very quickly and easily, with its bite-sized chapters interspersed with communiqués between high profile figures from both sides of the war, as the separate plot strands gradually mesh together. There is nothing particularly noble or high-minded about Bill or Daisy, both of whom are products of the families that reared them, but they grow into their roles and the reader can’t help rooting for them in the end.

A few of the details about the First World War are a bit suspect (it’s highly unlikely that any British soldiers were present at Verdun, and recruiting underage boys actually became illegal during the early years of the war), but on the whole if you like a twisting, dramatic plot with well-developed characters and a rollicking good read, this thriller won’t let you down. There’s even potential for a sequel.