Where Dead Men Meet, by Mark Mills, is a tale of adventure, espionage and dark secrets. Set in 1937 Europe it introduces the reader to Luke Hamilton, a foundling who was adopted by a wealthy British couple and now works as a junior air intelligence officer at the British Embassy in Paris. When an attempt is made on his life it is at first assumed to be a case of mistaken identity. It transpires that little is as it seems.
The story opens with the murder of a nun who is clubbed to death in the English orphanage where Luke spent the first seven years of his life. Over in Paris Luke attends the Exposition Internationale where he is approached by Bernard Fautrier, a man he assumes is trying to trade state secrets. The currency of the moment is information but Luke has been warned by his employers not to become involved.
There then follow a series of assassination attempts which leave an alarming body count and Luke is forced to flea. Unsure who to trust, but aware that he is only alive due to the actions of Fautrier, Luke makes his way to Germany where he makes contact with a young women named Pippi Keller. At first she refuses to believe his story. She and her assossiates work below the radar of the authorities smuggling people and artifacts across the border and away from the Nazis. She has good reason to hate Fautrier.
When an operation is compromised Luke’s life is once again threatened. The action moves through Switzerland and on to Italy. Luke is being pursued by a variety of shady characters intent on his demise. When he finally learns why he realises that Fautrier is right and he has a stark choice – kill or be killed.
The time period is well evoked with the threat of war and the undercurrents of distrust. With the benefit of hindsight it is too easy to judge but at the time there were many who saw potential for gain in the rise of the likes of Mussolini. The treatment of the Jews in Germany released ill-gotten wealth that plenty were eager to benefit from. The persecuted scientists and intellectuals were courted by England and America, aware that their knowledge and abilities could be used to gain national advantage.
Luke is a likeable hero with his vulnerability and reluctant bravery. Pippi is granted a strength that makes her an appealing sidekick. Despite the action and ever present danger there is an old-fashioned gentlemanly feel to the tale. The reader is transported to a fairly recent yet bygone era. An unchallenging but nevertheless enjoyable read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.