#BookReview A Prince and a Spy (Tom Wilde 5) by Rory Clements @ZaffreBooks

A Prince and a SpyAbout the Book

Sweden, 1942. Two old friends meet. They are cousins. One is Prince George, Duke of Kent, brother of the King of England. The other is Prince Philipp von Hesse, a committed Nazi and close friend of Adolf Hitler.

Days later, Prince George is killed in a plane crash in the north of Scotland. The official story is that it was an accident – though not everyone is convinced. There is even a suggestion that the Duke’s plane was sabotaged.

With no evidence, Cambridge spy Tom Wilde is sent north to investigate. What he discovers will have grave consequences not only for Britain, but for the entire world…

Format: Hardcover (480 pages)          Publisher: Zaffre
Publication date: 21st January 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller

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My Review

As far as I’m concerned it’s always a cause for celebration when a new book in Rory Clements’ Tom Wilde series arrives. As my reviews will testify, I’ve loved all the previous books in the series – Corpus, Nucleus, Nemesis and Hitler’s Secret – but to my mind A Prince and a Spy is the best yet.

The novel is inspired by the real-life events surrounding the death of King George V’s brother, the Duke of Kent, in a plane crash in the far north of Scotland in August 1942. All but one of the occupants of the plane were killed, including the Duke. The author has used the continuing mystery surrounding the circumstances of the crash as the starting point for a story involving wartime atrocities, covert operations and a conspiracy at the heart of the British establishment.

If that isn’t enough to whet your appetite there are also dramatic pursuits across land and sea by ruthless enemies who will stop at nothing, the use of truth drugs to extract information and some rather unconventional flight accommodation. And fans of the series will no doubt share my delight as Tom Wilde fires up his trusty Rudge Special motorcycle for breakneck journeys across the country.

Sent to Scotland to investigate the air crash, Wilde just can’t stop himself from asking questions that go well beyond his stated cover story, bringing him to the attention of some particularly dangerous individuals and to others whose motives are less than clear. At one point, Wilde is warned, “Now you’re getting in tricky waters, Tom. Any herring man will tell you to stay away from the shallows and the rocks”. But, as anyone familiar with Tom Wilde will know, he’s just as likely to steer straight towards them.

Moving between Scotland, Sweden and wartime London, at certain points the author also transports the reader to the heart of the Third Reich giving a chilling insight into its evil efficiency and the personal rivalries between its key figures.

Eventually all the threads are brought together in order to explain the background to the dramatic event that opens the book. Although dark deeds dominate most of the book, its ending is just perfect and offers a much needed ray of light.  However Tom being Tom, there are still unanswered questions that linger in his mind. I would have liked a more prominent role for Lydia, Wilde’s partner and the mother of his son, as she’s rather consigned to the domestic sidelines. However, that’s only a very minor gripe because in every other respect A Prince and a Spy has everything I look for in a historical thriller.

The author’s historical note provides fascinating information about the individuals who inspired some of the fictional characters, about the afterlives (where known) of the real characters and about some of the events portrayed in the book.  Sadly, some of the most shocking scenes in the book are based on historical fact.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of Zaffre and Readers First. A Prince and a Spy is also available as an ebook and audio book.

In three words: Gripping, dramatic, action-packed

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RoryClementsAbout the Author

Rory Clements was born on the edge of England in Dover. After a career in national newspapers, he now writes full time in a quiet corner of Norfolk, where he lives with his wife, the artist Naomi Clements Wright. He won the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award in 2010 for his second novel, Revenger, and the CWA Historical Dagger in 2018 for Nucleus. Three of his other novels – Martyr, Prince and The Heretics – have been shortlisted for awards. A Prince and a Spy is the fifth of his thriller series featuring Professor Tom Wilde. The first four – Corpus, Nucleus, Nemesis and Hitler’s Secret – are available in paperback now.

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#BookReview This Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik @ZaffreBooks @ReadersFirst1

This Green and Pleasant Land Ayisha MalikAbout the Book

For years Bilal Hasham and his wife Mariam have lived contented, quiet lives in the sleepy, rural village of Babbel’s End. Now all that is about to change.

On her deathbed, Bilal’s mother reaches for his hand. Instead of whispering her final prayers, she gives him a task: build a mosque in his country village.

Mariam is horrified by Bilal’s plan. His friends and neighbours are unnerved. As outrage sweeps Babbel’s End, battle lines are drawn. His mother’s dying wish reveals deeper divisions in their village than Bilal had ever imagined.

Soon Bilal is forced to choose between community and identity, between faith and friendship, between honouring his beloved mother’s last wish and preserving what is held dear in the place that he calls home.

Format: Hardcover (454 pages)       Publisher: Zaffre
Publication date:  13th June 2019  Genre: Contemporary Fiction

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My Review

In Babbel’s End, the author creates a picture of a community which exhibits all the features of small village life: gossip, petty rivalries and disputes between neighbours, the latter exemplified by the hilarious “battle of Tom’s bush”.  However, a recent tragedy has exposed the village to very modern day issues and the response to it (or lack of response to it) has heightened tensions.  As one character observes, “Living in their farmland, thinking nothing’s more important than a fete or a stolen ceramic pot; in the meantime, to hell with what anyone’s going through.” For Richard, the community’s vicar, the tragedy has caused him to doubt his ability to provide comfort where needed, including at a very personal level. “He seemed to have lost the ability to inspire people to faith or find the right words to help people in distress.”

Bilal, his wife Mariam, and son Haaris have embraced village life. In fact, their relocation from Birmingham to Babbel’s End was a deliberate move to escape his family’s expectations that he maintain aspects of his Pakistani heritage despite his having been born in Britain.  His mother’s deathbed wish changes all that, particularly when the strength of opposition becomes clear.  As disapproval bubbles over into overt racism, things get very personal and Bilal is tempted to forget the whole idea. “Change was meant for fascist states and oppressive governments, not serene, bobbing-along, minding-it’s-own-business Babbel’s End.”

As the news of Bilal’s mission goes viral, it becomes a bigger issue than just church versus mosque but raises questions of identity, religious freedom and diversity. As Bilal observes, “What did everyone even mean by English? Bilal was English. Though he could concede that having a mosque in the middle of the village might not be. Surely you could be and want two different things at the same time?

My favourite character in the book was Bilal’s Aunt (Khala) Rukhsana.  Speaking little English, at first she is something of a fish out of water.  However, she demonstrates the ability to reach out to people in other ways and really does emerge as the heroine of the piece.  For instance, I loved the gradual blossoming of her relationship with Mariam, especially their joint ‘assault’ on the school bake sale substituting the usual cupcakes for something traditionally Indian. “And so they began the process of making the sweet, fragrant, yellow rice, to give everyone in Babbel’s End a taste of what was to come.”

This Green and Pleasant Land teaches us that divisions can be healed if we just take the time to understand the other person’s point of view, that it’s important to seize the day and that, in the words of Rukhsana, “home must be where you feel most alive”.

I received a review copy courtesy of Zaffre and Readers First.

In three words: Warm, engaging, uplifting

Try something similar: The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

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Ayisha MalikAbout the Author

Ayisha Malik is a writer and editor, living in South London. She holds a BA in English Literature and a First Class MA in Creative Writing. Her novels Sofia Khan is Not Obliged and The Other Half of Happiness, starring ‘the Muslim Bridget Jones’, were met with great critical acclaim, and Sofia Khan is Not Obliged was chosen as 2019’s Cityread book. Ayisha was a WHSmith Fresh Talent Pick, shortlisted for the Asian Women of Achievement Award and Marie Claire’s Future Shapers Awards. Ayisha is also the ghost writer for The Great British Bake Off winner, Nadiya Hussain.

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