Book Review: Fifth Column by Mike Hollow

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Updated May 27, 2016
Book Review: Fifth Column by Mike Hollow

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An attractive young woman is found dead on a bomb site in the early hours of the morning. At first glance, she is just another casualty of the previous night's air raid, but when the post-mortem shows signs of strangling, DI Jago is called on to investigate. The dead woman is smartly dressed but carries no identity card. However, a local engineering company reports a member of staff has failed to appear at work that morning and the body is quickly identified as that of Miss Mary Watkins.

DI Jago's initial interviews yield little fruit, no one can think of a reason why Mary would be murdered, but as the investigation continues DI Jago starts to uncover a trail of deception and betrayal.

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Fifth Column
Overall rating 
This is the second novel from Mike Hollow about DI Jago - The Blitz Detective, but my first experience of both this author and this character. As you can probably guess from the series title DI Jago is a detective in London during the blitz in World War II. We are given a little bit of a flashback in the first chapter to some of the elements of Jago's past life as he dreams, but then wakes up to remember that he is in an air raid shelter in his garden which doesn't really make for a comfortable sleep! However we don't have too long to worry about the policeman's sleep patterns before he is called to the scene of a possible crime.

A young lady is found dead in a property that had been bombed earlier in the evening, but this was not someone killed by the Nazi war machine, instead it appears that his woman was murdered! I do not read (or watch) many detective stories, but I know that many of them allow the forensics to tell the story of 'whodunnit'. Shows like C.S.I. moved the genre to a place where it was all about the tiny fragments of evidence and piecing the story from there to prove a case. Well this story is pieced together with a doctor suggesting the way of the murder and only a few pieces of connecting evidence. From there it is questioning to find out who this poor girl is and why someone would want to murder her.

As with all good detective novels, just when you think you know who the murderer is, something comes along and twists things around again. This book kept me guessing until very close to the reveal, but I knew that it wasn't where the investigation seemed to be pointing!

This book takes a fictional story, but is inspired by events that did happen during the war, and it is set in the very real West Ham area of London. The background to this book is based in reality, some incidents that are mentioned, such as the bombing of Westminster Abbey really did happen in the way that this book discusses. This well researched background brings credibility to the story. Initially I must admit it was a little difficult to get into this story, reading and understanding about life in the war required a mental adjustment that came after about the 4th or 5th chapter. From there on it was easy to pick up and put down when necessary!

This book is published by Lion Hudson, a Christian publisher, so you would expect there to be some Christian concept and explanation described throughout the book. This wasn't really the case. There were some musing through the story about the nature of life and death, and I think this fits with the time period and with the backstory that DI Jago has been given. People would see their loved ones and everything they worked for pass in an instant due to a bomb, so I think this discussion would be something that people would have had. The slightly heavier part of the Christian message comes towards the end and it's a discussion again on the nature of good and the key question of why it meant so much to Jago to catch his man when each night in the raids many people were dying - why did a murder still matter against the bigger picture - and that is an interesting question which is deftly handled.

If detective novels are your thing, then I think that there is a lot to love about this book. Well researched and written presenting the reader with a very believable and plausible story. I think I would like to read more from Mike Hollow and could be easily tempted to find and read Direct Hit, the first in what could be a long running series.

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