Wednesday, January 16, 2008

the last book I read

Island Madness by Tim Binding.

So, as the title suggests, we're on an island. In fact this is Guernsey, and it's during the German occupation of World War II. The exact date is never mentioned, but the references to Stalingrad suggest it's perhaps early in 1943.

So, anyway, you're a small island community and you're occupied by an enemy force who plan to use your island home as a bridgehead for the impending invasion of Britain. So what do you do? Resist? Make the best of it? Try to co-exist? Try to snag yourself a German boyfriend so you can get extra butter rations? Needless to say the various inhabitants of the island deal with the situation in varying ways.

Things are complicated somewhat when one of the islanders is found murdered, her body dumped in a ventilation shaft in one of the German lookout posts. The head of the island's native police force, Ned Luscombe, has a delicate balancing act to perform as he tries to track down the killer, dealing with the islanders' resentment of the invaders on the one hand and the occupiers' hamstringing of his authority on the other.

This isn't 'Allo, 'Allo, so the German characters are as three-dimensional as the islanders, prey to the same doubts, foibles and sexual indiscretions. The specific time at which the book is set is significant, as well - Stalingrad marks the point where things start to go wrong for the Third Reich, and the very real possibility arises of the Germans losing the war.

The wartime occupation story and the murder mystery/whodunnit story feel slightly uncomfortably glued together, and the motivations for the bizarre behaviour of the murdered girl's father after the murder seem slightly sketchy, but those minor criticisms aside this is very good; thought-provoking about a little-understood period in recent British history, but also very easy to read.

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