Dead in the Water by Mark Ellis is an interesting, complex and satisfying read. I heartily recommend it to lovers of suspense as well as murder-mystery/police-crime.
The sales blurb doesn’t do the book justice. The story, set in World War 2 London, follows DCI Merlin and his staff as they try to find a murderer. In doing so they are attempting to save a black US serviceman who has been hastily tried for and convicted of the murder and then sentenced to death by the US military based in the UK. DCI Merlin is sure the convicted man is innocent, but time is precious as the hanging is scheduled in just a few days.
The victim is a Russian spy, recently arrived from neutral Portugal. Merlin’s associate in MI6 reveals there is also a Nazi spy involved.
Meanwhile a wealthy Dutch immigrant is trying to sell 2 valuable pieces of art to an ultra-wealthy collector back in Portugal. The complexity of the sale drags in more unsavoury characters, including a corrupt businessman who happens to be the Nazi spy. The sale will resolve the immigrant’s immediate financial difficulties and allow him to keep his son and daughter living their comfortable lifestyles. His son wants money to establish a literary magazine; his daughter wants a more expensive residence. His daughter’s boyfriend hatches a plan to steal the artworks and on the night of the robbery, the girlfriend’s father is murdered, found the next day floating in the Thames.
Merlin must unravel all of this to find the Russian spy’s real murderer in time to save the wrongly-convicted US serviceman.
There are many suspects and all are well-developed characters in the story who relate well enough to create character-led plot twists that flow naturally. I enjoyed keeping track of the characters’ relationships and the suspects’ testimonies, alibis, and dubious behaviours.
World War 2 London is an intriguing setting. While normal life is suspended, many people tried to continue to live their lives despite black outs, rationing and the fear of Nazi invasion.
My only criticism of the book is that Merlin and his staff seemed too squeaky-clean. I like the authenticity of characters who are at least a little flawed, although maybe this is overdone – not all detectives have to be alcoholic, brooding and divorced so it was a pleasant change to read about Merlin’s happy home life, shepherd’s pie and the occasional bottle of ale.
A thoroughly convoluted plot, plenty of suspects, intriguing setting, well-paced suspense, and a cleverly-constructed conclusion. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and happily recommend it to lovers of murder mystery and suspense.