Where Dead Men Meet
PublisherHeadline Review
Date Published13 July 2017
 
 
ISBN-100755392388
ISBN-13978-0755392384
Formatpaperback
Pages448
Price£ 8.99

Where Dead Men Meet

by Mark Mills

Sister Agnes of St Theresa’s orphanage comes upon an intruder in the middle of the night. When she fails to supply information regarding one of the children who lived there, he kills her.


Review

Where Dead Men Meet is set in Europe during the Spanish Civil War, though that event itself has no impact on the book. It concerns Luke Hamilton who was abducted as a baby and left on the doorstep of St Theresa’s orphanage in England. Sister Agnes from the orphanage comes upon an intruder in the middle of the night. When she fails to supply the information about Luke’s adoptive parents, he demands he kills her.

When the story begins Luke is in Paris, apparently rather loosely attached to the British Embassy as part of the Air Intelligence Department. It is soon made obvious that there is a plot to kill him. A man called Borodin has been given the task but, having met Luke, he cannot bring himself to carry out the assassination. Instead he kills a man who had been sent to kill him for failing to carry out orders.

It would seem that the death of Hamilton is crucial to somebody but there is a weakness of plot since it is by no means clear why it is necessary. Though there are a number of assurances by the author that everything will be explained, it doesn’t seem much clearer at the end of the novel than at the beginning.

There is a considerable amount of plot – actually far too much – involving countless characters, none of whom are particularly well drawn. In fact, the word ‘plot’ hardly applies to what goes on as the story moves from England to France, to Germany, to Switzerland, to Italy and finally back to England.

Hamilton and his girlfriend Pippi are constantly on the move, either to avoid being killed or to outwit their pursuers and, if possible, to kill them. They seem to have no sooner booked out of one hotel, in which they have taken shelter, than they are booking into another. Their moves are frequently anticipated but time and time again they escape.

We are told rather vaguely that the persons responsible are very powerful in the criminal world and that they make their money ensnaring wealthy and respectable people. However, they seem to employ only people who are either incapable of carrying out the murder or are unwilling to do so. The novel is full of murders, all of them designed to happen suddenly and dramatically, but the reader reaches a point where they are almost expecting them. The problem with all this violence is that Hamilton seems almost part of it and not someone with whom the reader can easily sympathise.

The resolution of all this mayhem is scarcely believable. And there is an interesting use of words that reveals quite a lot about the lack of care that is apparent in this novel. In one exchange, the phrase ‘I may look like a brute, but I can do delicate’ is used. Realistic in 2017, perhaps, but not 1937 and the choice of language jars.

Reviewed 28 April 2018 by Arnold Taylor