Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Smiler with the Knife: Review

For the Lucky 15 Challenge, one of my many (many!) challenges, I had to read a book randomly chosen from my TBR pile by someone else. I enlisted the services of my son and he decided my next book should be The Smiler with the Knife (1939) by Nicholas Blake (aka Cecil Day-Lewis). The book was a surprise on two counts. First, it was not, as I fully expected it to be, one of the books with an all-red cover* [red would be my son's favorite color]--although it does have a bit of red on it. And, second, while it is billed as "A Nigel Strangeways Mystery," it isn't really. The story focuses on his wife, former world-explorer Georgia.

Nigel and Georgia have just settled into a life of rural domesticity in Devon when they notice some dubious goings-on in the little village. It all starts when Georgia's sharp eyes spot a tarnished locket while trimming their hedge. The locket holds a photo and a strange circular badge...and apparently belongs to Major Keston.  Then the Major entertains some rather unusual visitors and seems to be indulging in a spot of smuggling under the cover of a local ghost legend. But what exactly is being smuggled? Nigel consults his uncle Sir John Strangeways who is also the head of Scotland Yard's C-Branch. Sir John needs someone to infiltrate what looks to be an underground Nazi-sympathizer organization located in the heart of England. Nigel's reputation as an investigator with close ties to the police make him unsuitable--so a plan is hatched to distance Georgia from the Strangeways so she can go on one more adventure. An adventure that will not only put her life in danger--but an adventure that will also decide the fate of England. She will have to use all her resources as an adventuress to make her way through the affair.

After I adjusted to the fact that Nigel was not the hero of the piece, I settled down to enjoy this political thriller with a very resourceful heroine indeed. Georgia handles herself rather well among the hush-hush cloak and dagger types and uses great ingenuity to get herself out of some rather tight places. She dresses up as everything from Father Christmas to a Radiance Girl (a cross between an interpretative dancer and a New Age devotee) and is aided by adventurer-wannabes like the manager of a well-known department store and a plucky vicar's wife. There's a cross-country chase and Georgia manages a rather MacGyver-style escape. It's all great fun and a thrilling adventure all in the name of foiling the fascist bad guys. No great mysteries here, just a straight political thriller complete with evil master mind and henchmen. A topical story for the times which has held up very well. ★★  and a half.

*He tells me that would have been too obvious. So he went with one that had an interesting title.

This fulfills the "Pseudonymous Author" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.

1 comment:

fredamans said...

Not sure this would be for me, I am more of a mystery girl than political thrillers. Great review though. Your son's choice, based on cover, I find cool too! The cover could be current too.