Troubled Midnight – John Gardner (2005)

It is late 1943 and plans for the invasion of Europe, Operation Overlord,
are in full swing when Chief Superintendent Tommy Livermore and Detective Sergeant Suzie Mountford are called out to a vicious double murder in Wantage. The male victim, Tim Wearing an Army officer commanding a nearby Glider Pilot unit, has been extensively tortured; the female victim, Emily Burrage, with whom he was having an affair is the wife of a war hero who is currently a POW. When an Intelligence Officer, Curry Shepherd, turns up it soon becomes apparent that the murder is linked to German attempts to learn the plans for Overlord. These attempts are in the hands of spy called Sadler, though his ‘British’ identity remains quite naturally a secret. When Suzie is transferred to the Intelligence Service she and Curry are the targets of an assassin; they are engaged in a desperate and dangerous race against time to unmask the traitor and murderer before he can complete his betrayal. The mystery consists in the identity of Sadler who is given his own narrative.

John Gardner wrote nearly 50 books from the early 1960’s up to his death in 2007. The majority of these were in the spy or thriller genres – he actually
wrote more James Bond books than Ian Fleming. Troubled Midnight is the 4th book of five in the Suzie Mountford series.

There can be absolutely no question that Troubled Midnight is a WW2 book; it fulfils all the criteria laid out in my review of Last Rights – plot,
character, background, sociology are all intimately and uniquely connected
to the War. However it is also pretty bad. It is salutary for me to be
reminded that just because a book meets the criteria for being adjudged a
WW2 mystery does not mean that it is going to be any good! The writing is
sloppy and unimaginative, the characters stereotypical and wooden, the
observation hackneyed and the plotting average. Gardner does throw in an
ironically surprising ending, but even this I personally found to be
annoying rather than anything else.

But! Having said all this I have to admit that I was hooked by the narrative
to a far greater degree than by that of Nadel or even Ironside. To some
degree this is because the book is so light-weight that it makes almost no
demands at all on one’s intelligence. However this must also be a result of
Gardner’s skill, developed over many years, in story-telling and narrative
pacing; his handling of the switches of narrative viewpoint are one such
device for retaining attention. Reading this book will provide a few hours
of escapism but even so at the back of one’s mind there is always the
feeling that it is a waste of time when yet another cliché crops up. It is
the narrative skill which prevents the book from being a total misfire
however.

(March 2009)

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