The Turncoat by Alan Murray
I was given the novel, The Turncoat by Alan Murray’s publisher for review. It is a debut novel by Murray but he has written many factual pieces previously and that is somewhat reflected in the language and layout of this book.
The Turncoat opens with a prologue detailing the death and destruction wrought on Clydebank, immediately catapulting the reader into the chaos of 1941. On night of March 13, 1941, German bombers targeted the shipyards and munitions factories in Clydebank, trying to disrupt the British war effort, it is a horror of World War II that is often overlooked in the history books.
When the story commences, there are two main protagonists. The first, Major George McLean, a former journalist at the Glasgow Herald, who an educated and well-read man and hopes to return to his old job when the war ends. The other is Sergeant Danny Inglis. He is more of a never afraid to get his hands dirty should a suspect require some persuasion. Both are veterans of World War I and together they scour the west of Scotland for spies and traitors from Room 21A, military intelligence. This gives them the freedom to investigate wherever they see fit. The men report to Brigadier Ewen Stuart, a posh old buffer. He provides some light relief but may not be quite as ineffective as he seems.They are joined in their investigations by the very proper Finola Fraser, who the Major knows from his Glasgow Herald days. She has a nose for a story and network of people happy to tip her off to anything newsworthy.
The plot is clever and revolves around a rumour that the second night of the Luftwaffe bombing was so accurate and destructive because the Germans were being fed information from someone local. The only strangers in town are two Irishmen, “Cafflicks” passing themselves off as “Proddies” to get a job on the docks. The Major suspects that the IRA might be helping the Germans out. He and Inglis organise a manhunt to find the Irishmen before they escape back to Ireland and try to find Chrysalis, the mastermind behind the spying operation.
Meanwhile, Rudolf Hess crash lands in Scotland, and military intelligence must find out why.
The Turncoat is a nice mix of fact and fiction cleverly woven to produce a gripping crime story in a historical setting. Although, Murray’s characterisation is sometimes a bit thin, The Turncoat offers a complex plot and plenty of authentic details make for an absorbing and informative read. I highly recommend The Turncoat, not only for general reading, but also as a way of immersing reluctant history student into another era.