Orders from Berlin


Life goes on in London, even under the Blitz—people work, fall in love, and occasionally get murdered. Deputy Chief Inspector John Quaid has the job of solving those murders, though with police resources stretched to the breaking point, he must do so quickly or not at all.

At first the death of Albert Morrison seems another mundane homicide, almost quaint; the lead suspect is a shifty son-in-law with an inheritance motive. But when Quaid discovers the victim was a retired intelligence officer, his persistence unravels a much deeper plot—a scheme to assassinate Winston Churchill in his own bunker. Quaid wrestles not only with the unknown murderer, a resourceful enemy agent, but also a boss who likes neither the time the investigation is taking nor the feathers it ruffles within British intelligence.

Tolkien (and yes, he is the legendary lore-master’s grandson) gives a neat set of characters for the central story, fully fleshed with a barely suppressed hysteria as destruction rains from the skies nightly. The action and fear in London is so gripping, and the story of Quaid’s romance with the victim’s daughter so strong, that I only wish Tolkien had left out the scenes between Adolf Hitler and the Gestapo officer who masterminds the operation. These add little, and the characterization of Hitler—a daunting proposition at best—lacks the necessary psychotic gravitas. Similarly Churchill blusters but does not inspire, and at several points quotes his own famous speeches for the reader’s benefit.

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(US) 9780312632144