A while back, I tried reading a mystery by Benjamin Black, a pen name for the writer John Banville. It made me interested enough to try another book by him.
During the Blitz, the British government decides to send the two princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, away for safe-keeping. Ireland is selected, presumably because it is neutral. Garda Detective Strafford, who is assigned to security, thinks the choice of Ireland is crazy, because there are still many people in the newly independent Ireland who hate the British, but the British involved don’t seem to know that. Celia Nashe, the MI5 agent assigned, just wants to break through the old boys club and get a decent mission.
So, Celia and the princesses are sent, otherwise unaccompanied, to join the household of the Duke of Edenmore with only Strafford for company, surrounded by a hidden detachment of incompetent Irish army men. Clonmillis Hall proves to be a castle—ramshackle, comfortless, cold, and poorly run.
No, this isn’t Cold Comfort Farm but a pretty good thriller, as the local IRA agent finds out who the girls are and notifies his contacts in Belfast. But first we see the discomfort of Nashe and Strafford, the homesickness and boredom of the girls.
Nothing much about this semi-literary thriller is predictable. The girls are lightly characterized—Elizabeth as reserved and priggish, Margaret as sly and mischievous, but still with sympathy. Although the novel changes point of view, it sticks mostly with Strafford. An interesting, engrossing read.