Author: Mark Ellis

Publisher: London Wall Publishing (October 12, 2017)



Merlin at War     is the third novel to feature Anglo-Spanish DCI (Detective Chief Inspector) Frank Merlin of Scotland Yard.  As with the previous two books (Princes Gate, Stalin’s Gold), Mark Ellis’s new whodoneit is set in England during World War II. To date, the series has been successful overseas, especially in England and Australia; Merlin at War is Ellis’s first attempt to crack into the American market.

But mystery fans, don’t expect Merlin at War to be a detective procedural with Merlin following a series of clues to uncover a murderer. The novel is more layered and complex than any one plotline. In fact, there are long sections where Merlin isn’t onstage at all and a number of events seem unrelated to the death of a botched abortion victim Merlin is investigating.    World War II is more than an atmospheric backdrop.   In fact, the book opens with a deadly mission by British soldiers in Crete during 1941.  One survivor of a six man unit gunned down by Nazi planes is asked by his superior officer to deliver a letter for him, but the officer dies before he can do more than scrawl a single “S” on the envelope. That’s the book’s first mystery—who is the letter’s intended recipient and what is in it? Does it have anything to do with the dead man’s very remunerative business holdings? Does it reverse previous wills giving his son command of the business?

During the many pages of this unfolding storyline, and the three cases Merlin undertakes, we also meet many French characters on both sides of the battle lines, including spies and traitors. They represent those supporting a Free France and those willing to appease the Vichy government. These figures include the historical Charles de Gaulle and a French emigre shot in a seedy Notting Hill flat. Along the way, the deep cast of main characters are shown in Ireland, Buenos Aires, New York, occupied France, and especially London while the city was being bombed during the blitz. 

Ellis is extremely good at providing the details and descriptions that give credible verisimilitude to his various overlapping stories. This is most evident in all the conversations that include reactions to the progress, or lack thereof, of the war, the political dynamics between the likes of de Gaulle and Churchill, the domestic relationships of a number of the protagonists,    and the interviews Merlin’s team conducts as they investigate a number of seemingly unrelated murders in London. We are also taken to many night spots, hotels, offices, and restaurants, again mostly in London.

Without question, Merlin at War should please fans of espionage thrillers, mysteries, period dramas, and especially buffs of historical fiction set during the Second World War. Through it all, I often thought this novel would make for an excellent PBS mini-series. True, we already got the WW II set Foyle’s War which was primarily set on England’s south coast. Merlin at War has a wider canvas and is centered in the more cosmopolitan London. 

Dear publisher: when you work on releasing Princes Gate and Stalin’s Gold in the U.S., please keep me in mind. I’d love to read and review the first adventures of Frank Merlin and his compatriots. Oh, and book four as well, whenever it comes out.