Wednesday, May 5, 2010

aka The Spin Doctor

Okay. I’ll have to display my ignorance. Prior to last week, if you had asked me “What do you know about Malta?” I might have replied “Is that where there was an important meeting during World War II? Oh, no. That was Yalta.” That’s bad, isn’t it? I couldn’t even have placed Malta correctly on our small planet. But now, having read The Information Officer by Mark Mills, I am much better informed. This is a murder mystery and a history lesson and it succeeds superbly at both.

It is 1942 and Malta is under siege: both externally by the German and Italian Axis air forces; and internally by someone, possibly a British submariner, who is murdering local dance hall girls. Caught in the middle of both is the British information officer Major Max Chadwick whose job involves whether, when and how to release information in ways not damaging to British/Maltese relationships.

Malta, as we learn, has played a strategic role in wars throughout history starting with the Phoenicians. This is equally true in 1942. If Malta falls, it could alter the course of this war. The Maltese are beginning to weary of their sacrifices on behalf of the British. When are the British really going to commit enough forces and resources to support Malta? How would the local people react to the news of these murders possibly by one of their occupiers? It made me think of some of the stories that we read now about Afghanistan. Maybe that is Mills’ point.

We in the United States are fortunate not to have had to fight a foreign war on our own soil in recent time. It must be a surreal experience to watch from your rooftop as the neighboring areas are carpet bombed. Mills is especially skilled at taking the reader to the roof and to the trenches to hear and smell and feel the battles.

This is not a book that you will remember for its character development…but you will remember it.

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