Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I is for The Information Officer

My submission for the Crime Fiction Alphabet for 2012 is The Information Officer by Mark Mills. Visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise to check out other entries for the letter I.

I finished this novel in late June and I enjoyed both the setting and the story. This book successfully weaves a story about the war as it affected Malta with a hunt for a serial killer.

Description from the book flap:
Summer 1942: Malta, a small windswept island in the Mediterranean, has become the most bombed patch of earth on the planet, worse even than London during the Blitz. The Maltese, a fiercely independent people, withstand the relentless Axis air raids.
Max Chadwick is the British officer charged with manipulating the news on Malta to bolster the population's fragile esprit de corps.
Mark Mills writes mysteries set in the past. His first novel, Amagansett, was set in 1947 in that small town on the South Shore of Long Island, New York. It focuses on the changes in the culture of that area following the war. The second novel, The Savage Garden, is also set in the post-war years, in the late 1950's. It features an architecture student who is in Tuscany working on his thesis. I have not read either of these books, but I am guessing I would like them a lot based on reviews and how much I liked The Information Officer.

What did I like about this book?

I liked reading about Malta during World War II. I had not been aware that Malta had been under siege during the war because of its strategic location, and the descriptions of the situation that both the islanders and the military staff had to endure were eye-opening for me. I enjoy many kinds of mysteries, but in the last few years, reading novels set in World War II has become a passion. In addition to historical novels, I enjoy vintage mysteries written during and around the years of that war, for the picture of how the war affected day-to-day life.

I liked the characters. Mainly the protagonist. His characteristics and motivations were more fully fleshed out than other characters. I appreciated the picture of women during that time and the opportunities they had to step out of established roles.

On the other hand, the actual crime being investigated is not my favorite choice. This story focuses on the search for a serial killer attacking young women on the island. Figuring out who did it and how is sometimes less interesting because it is usually a compulsion, a need the killer has to fill. I prefer the motivation to be more subtle: money, love, power. However, I liked the story surrounding the mystery.

There is a love story of sorts, and the relationships of men and women are examined. Especially within this time period. The picture of military life seemed realistic to me. There is sex, but it is handled well.

Mark Mills has a fourth mystery novel, House of the Hanged, published this year in the US.  This most recent novel is set in the pre-war years, on the France Riviera, 1935, and the protagonist has left a career in the Secret Intelligence Service. Another one that is right up my alley. Spies and pre-World War II years.

At the author's website, he has a nice description of what led him to write each book (at the end of the page about each book).
Crimeficreader at It's a Crime (or a Mystery...) has mixed reactions to The Information Officer, but really liked The Savage Garden.


Bill Selnes said...

TracyK: I skimmed the review as I may read the book. I have not read a mystery set in Malta. Thanks for the review.

Anonymous said...

Tracy - Thanks for this thoughtful review. I'm fascinated by the setting and context. I like historical mysteries and I don't know enough about Malta. I'm not sure I'm interested in another story about a serial killer preying on young women though. Like you I prefer other kinds of motives. Still, this does sound interesting!

srivalli said...

I haven't read a mystery based in Malta. Sounds like an interesting book!

Scott said...

Interesting location, but the time period is very interesting. Only book I have read during that time frame was Ken Follet's The Key to Rebecca

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Fascinating TracyK - not read anything by Mills yet. I'll definitely get SAVAGE GARDEN and try that one. Thanks.

Anna said...

I think I have this one on my shelf. Must make time to read it, since I have yet to read about Malta during WWII.

Neeru said...

Tracy, you seem to have liked it far better than I did. I liked the setting but didn't like any of the characters. But then I wasn't impressed by THE SAVAGE GARDEN too:)

TracyK said...

Neeru, after all this time I honestly don't remember much about this book, but I do remember that I wanted to try more of his books. Which I have not done. I would probably be willing to read this again just because of the setting.