About the Book
Cambridge, 1940. It is the first winter of the war and the snow is falling thick and fast. A college porter, crossing the ancient Mathematical Bridge on his nightly rounds, is startled to hear a child’s cries for help coming from the icy river below. Detective Inspector Eden Brooke is summoned by police whistle and commandeers a punt in a desperate attempt to save the child, but the flood carries the boy away into the night. By dawn there is no trace of the victim.
The boy was Sean Flynn, part of a group of Irish Catholic children evacuated from a poor London parish. When an explosion causes damage at a factory engaged in war work and the bombers leave an Irish Republican slogan at the scene, Brooke questions whether there could be a connection between the two events. As more riddles come to light, he begins to close in on a killer, but there is one last twist: it seems that Sean Flynn had his own startling secret.
Format: Hardcover (352 pp) Publisher: Allison & Busby
Publication date: 21st February 2019 Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime
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In The Mathematical Bridge, the author once again creates a vivid sense of what it must have been like to live in wartime Cambridge with familiar views transformed by the addition of rooftop observation posts and searchlights to detect enemy bombers. Detective Inspector Eden Brooke’s home life reflects the daily experience of families during wartime. He and his wife, Claire, are awaiting news of their son serving with the British Expeditionary Force and his pregnant daughter, Joy, is anxiously awaiting news of her submariner husband. Alongside this uncertainty, there are long night shifts, blackouts, air raid warnings and rationing to contend with, not to mention the threat of attacks by the IRA. One of the many things I enjoyed about the book is this mixture of the personal and the political, the local and the global.
Another theme, as in the first book in the series, is that of darkness and light. Eden Brooke himself is the most obvious manifestation of this. The damage to his vision and the insomnia caused by his traumatic experiences in the desert during the First World War make the night time streets of Cambridge a sanctuary. It’s one he shares with fellow “nighthawks”, such as cafe owner Rose King, expert in circadian rhythms Aldiss, or night porter Doric, ‘condemned to live life out of the light, at home in the shadowy world of the college after dark’. There are also some wonderfully atmospheric night time scenes such as the search of the drained River Cam.
However, although Brooke may welcome the darkness in a physical sense, his moral and professional impulse is to seek just the opposite. ‘Joining the Borough, on his return from the desert, had offered an opportunity to tilt the world towards light, and away from the darkness, even by small fractions of a degree.’
As in The Great Darkness, the author makes the reader feel they are alongside Brooke as he travels the streets of Cambridge in the course of his investigations, crossing the various bridges over the River Cam, including the famous Mathematical Bridge of the book’s title. And I’m sure I’m not the only reader who reacted with joy when they opened the book and found there was a map in the front.
In the enthralling final chapters, there are dramatic events, surprising revelations, split second life and death decisions to be taken and some poignant moments. At one point, Brooke observes, ‘He didn’t like the sense that fate was contriving a circular narrative, a story that was being drawn back to the beginning’. As a reader, I can only disagree (sorry, Eden) because I loved the way the various storylines were skilfully brought together. Oh, and a word of advice for Eden – listen to your wife when it comes to making assumptions about the identity of a murderer in future.
I loved The Great Darkness and this follow-up certainly didn’t disappoint. The Mathematical Bridge would be perfect for those mourning the demise of TV’s Foyle’s War or for fans of James Runcie’s ‘Grantchester Mysteries’ series. Readers who enjoyed The Great Darkness and have read, or are looking forward to reading, The Mathematical Bridge will be pleased to learn (as I was) that a third book in the series is due to be published early next year. It already has a place on my wishlist.
I received a review copy courtesy of Allison & Busby.
In three words: Atmospheric, compelling, assured
Try something similar: Nucleus (Tom Wilde #2) by Rory Clements (read my review here)
About the Author
Jim Kelly was born in 1957 and is the son of a Scotland Yard detective. He went to university in Sheffield, later training and working as a journalist on publications including the Financial Times. His first book, The Water Clock, was shortlisted for the John Creasey Award and he has since won a CWA Dagger in the Library and the New Angle Prize for Literature. He lives in Ely.