Book Review: The Blitz Detective: Firing Line by Mike Hollow

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Updated March 26, 2018
Mike Hollow

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Flames leap skyward from a blitzed factory in West Ham as an air raid destroys all in its path.

When the blaze threatens neighbouring houses a volunteer fireman breaks in to rescue a trapped resident – but instead finds only the body of a young woman, strangled in her bedroom.

For Detective Inspector John Jago the scene brings back memories of the Soho Strangler. He suspects this woman had a secret – that she is not what she seems – and that this may be the root of her untimely end.

Investigation reveals a drunken sailor may hold the key to what happened in Joan Watson’s flat. But his information points Jago towards family jealousies, violence, robbery, and the underworld of political terrorism. Was Joan as innocent as her friends claim, or was she mixed up in crime? Jago must unpick multifarious motives if he hopes to reach the truth.

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1 reviews

Firing Line by Mike Hollow
Overall rating 
This is the fourth novel in the Blitz Detective series from Mike Hollow. These murder mysteries are set in the West Ham in London in the middle of the Blitz and follow the investigations of Detective Inspector Jago and Detective Constable Cradock. I have previously reviewed Fifth Column from this series and I enjoyed it. Somehow I have missed the intervening book called Enemy Action, but despite this I was able to pick up this book and read the story without feeling like I had missed too much.

The story starts with a female Air Raid Warden checking the area around a recently bombed factory and discovering a light on and showing from a downstairs window. With help from a fireman they break into the flat and discover a body of a young lady. Due to the risk of fire spreading they decide to move the body outside so it can be preserved for investigation. This means an early morning wake-up call for DI Jago to visit the scene and begin the investigation.

There are some things about this series that are a bit similar to other detective novels. The relationship between Jago and Cradock, for example, is immediately reminiscent of Morse and Lewis. Their superior reminds me a bit of Mullet from the Frost books and I guess these things exist because they are fairly true to life in this type of workplace. If you are working in a team of two, with one being the senior rank, then they probably are going to be a little more senior in their years and outlook, and we all know what managers are like! So there is an easy and comfortable hierarchy in this book which follows the familiar format. The main characters are likeable and we get to know a little more about them in this novel, but there probably aren't quite as many personal revelations in this as there were in Fifth Column.

The murder mystery itself gives us a fair amount of intrigue. Detective novels of this nature are very different to many of the modern police procedural dramas on TV these days where people are chased down based on Crime Scene evidence. This is about asking questions and digging until you reach the truth. There are many suspects here for the murder and when the investigation leads the detectives to the local cinema where the woman works, they discover a break in and a blown safe. The question is, are the two incidents related or is it just a coincidence, or could one event be a cover-up for the other. Of course there are plenty of suspects with means and motive for the murder and it is up to Jago and Cradock to find out who actually did it.

Often at this point of a crime review I declare that I knew very early on who did the crime, apart from a shock twist. With this book I had absolutely no clue who it was. As a reader we are guided by the information given by the author and led down different alleys of the investigation, giving us misdirection and allowing us to draw our own conclusions and Mike does a great job of this. There were many strands of the story that needed to be tied up and I didn't see the end to the investigation coming, and then suddenly everything begins to make sense.

Although this is a detective novel there is an underlying romance which has been brewing, and the author takes a couple of chapters in the story and at the end of the book to spend some time developing this part of the Jago's life. As a survivor of the Great War and his training as a detective he has many personal things to face, and he is beginning to do so through the love interest with a gentle prompting he is beginning to allow himself to let go of survivors guilt and feel free to live his own life. It is the little things like this that really ground these books. Admittedly Mike has a series of novels to let us in and explore Jago's life, but this is done so gently and carefully that it feels quite real. I am not old enough to have lived through these times, but from what I know of the Second World War this seems like a pretty realistic, albeit fictional, depiction of life through that time.

There is not a big element of faith in this book. There is some discussion of spiritualism and some political discussion of Social Credit which links into the plot and a few quotes from the Bible are popped into people's mouths too, but that is about it.

I enjoyed this book, it's an intriguing read and definitely kept me interested, in fact I read most of the novel in a day as I was travelling and it certainly helped the journey pass quickly! The characters are familiar but definitely believable and the plot unwinds in a carefully managed way with just enough evidence to suspect everyone. Well done Mike, looking forward to the next instalment already!

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