“City Under Siege” by Michael Russell

Today I’m reviewing a book just because I liked it. It has few writing flaws, but it’s a fun read, nonetheless.

I’m always interested in a murder mystery where the killer leaves “no clues.” The writer is laying down a challenge, to see how long he can hold the suspense without giving us any possibility of relief. This story carries it just a little further than it should, but the characters and the intervening information are interesting enough to keep us reading

High on the list of “interesting” is a complicated triangle of political interactions; during WWII, there were nationalists in both Ireland and India that would have loved to see Imperial England knocked down a peg or two. Some of them even thought they might get a better deal from Germany. This makes for an interesting conflict when the two detectives working on the case are from India and Ireland.  Unfortunately, the author seems to think we need a whole lot more background than that, involving too many names and connections that tend to overwhelm, yet have little impact on the action.

These two elements mean the story gets off to a rather slow start, and we keep turning the pages because of our connection with the main character,

However, once the story moves to Malta, everything gets pared down to the essentials. The inter-jurisdictional rivalries are reduced to conflicts of personality against the background tension of the constant bombings, adding up to some very tight suspense.

It’s hard to stay absorbed in a story when the point of view changes. Chapter 3 is taken up by a character we never see again, with a puzzling guest appearance by Noel Coward. At various places, the writer’s focus seems to waver, and we are suddenly looking at the scene from a different person’s perspective. This is not really a complaint, more of a “could have been done better” comment.

A good murder mystery based on an interesting historical perspective, with a pleasant travelogue of Malta thrown in.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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