Written by Gavin Scott – Duncan Forrester, ex-Special Operations Executive agent and history scholar, returns for a second outing in Scott’s engaging historical crime series. We return to the years immediately after World War II, but the setting has moved from the comfortable lawns of Oxford as seen in The Age of Treachery to the rugged, sun-blasted Greek islands.
Now it is both ancient and recent history which interests Forrester. It was in Greece that Forrester worked for the SOE, helping the resistance fight the German Army. It was a tough campaign, waged in inhospitable terrain, and he became close to the rag tag band of Greek resistance fighters, particularly General Aristotle Alexandros, Greece’s foremost military strategist. While hiding in a cave to avoid a German patrol, Forrester made the discovery which he hopes will make his academic career. He found a stone carved with ancient symbols which might just be the key to unlocking the Minoan language, so he has returned with his Norwegian lover, Sophie, to try and locate it once again and decipher its secrets.
During the occupation, Greek royalists and communists were able to put aside their political differences, but now that peace has broken out, Greece is on the brink of civil war. The royalist faction wishes to bring the exiled King back to Greece, but the communist group, ELAS, has high hopes of persuading General Alexandros to lead their side, and his participation is likely to swing any future conflict in their favour. Britain is concerned about the rise of communism in Europe, and the British attaché wants Forrester to try to divine the general’s intentions.
Forrester is a reluctant hero, and his patriotic sense of duty initially struggles to overcome his desire to resume his studies and his hopes for a romantic break with Sophie. The author, though, does not make the mistake of delaying the inevitable too long, and a menacing rooftop encounter with a man whose face is half obscured by a metal mask propels Forrester into action. The death by poisoning of a Greek poet at a reception in the general’s honour underlines the urgency of Forrester’s task.
Present at the reception are a number of notable Greek and British individuals, whose actions and motivations, alongside the mysterious masked man, Forrester will have to divine if he is to solve the mystery. These include General Alexandros himself; Helen Spetsos, who was the general’s lover during his time in the resistance and who finds herself out in the cold now that he has returned to his family; David Venables, a left wing British writer; and Prince Constantine Atreides, a leading royalist who hopes to smooth the King’s return.
The first Forrester novel, The Age of Treachery, was a delight for fans of historical crime fiction, and no doubt The Age of Olympus will prove equally popular. The mystery plot is a straightforward one, perhaps even a little disappointing, as Forrester gradually whittles down his suspects. But the historical detail that Scott introduces seamlessly into the narrative remains as interesting as ever. I got to learn about Greece before, during, and after WWII. As in his previous book, Scott introduces genuine historical figures into his story; the aforementioned General Alexandros, but also Lawrence Durrell, brother of the famous naturalist Gerald.
Forrester remains an engaging protagonist. There is something comforting, even nostalgic, if not necessarily realistic, about his unerring moral compass and British sense of fair play. This slightly old-fashioned hero, coupled with the evocative setting, makes for an entertaining Historical crime thriller, which will no doubt build on the success of the first book.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars