A Gathering of Saints

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677 gathering saintsA maniacal serial killer known as Queer Jack stalks London during the dark days of the Blitz, engaging the pursuit not only of Scotland Yard but of a highly placed German spy known as The Doctor. That's the premise behind Hyde's densely atomospheric new thriller, his latest after Hard Target (1990).

Detective Inspector Morris Black, widowed, brilliant, introspective and Jewish, is "seconded" to MI5 for the duration of the murder investigation. Black's diggings must remain top-secret, because the killer always commits his grisly crimes in locations that are immediately bombed by the Germans. While Black deducts from the evidence and reviews his own haunted past, London turns to smoking ash around him. Meanwhile, a host of additional characters impedes his progress, most notably Katherine Copeland, a volatile American journalist-cum-spy whose assignment is to seduce Black and who ends up getting in the way at the most extraordinary moments.

Hyde's scrupulous research and deep knowledge of the political realities surrounding the Blitz make his story utterly convincing, though at times the generous detail grows so thick that it chokes the narrative like a kudzu vine. The procedural elements are perfect, however, with scenes of ghastly carnage rendered so crisply that one can almost smell the fear and death. The final pages, in which Black, The Doctor and the forces of MI5 inevitably converge upon Jack, contain images of gore and tormented madness that can't soon be forgotten. Readers who relish the raw truth of human, and inhuman, history will find here what they are looking for.

 

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