Comrades Under Threat

Having enjoyed Robert Craven’s 2021 novel, “A Kind of Drowning” (see earlier blogpost), I was encouraged to go back a decade to the author’s debut book, “Get Lenin”. Set in Europe amid the tumult of World War II, the author introduces Eva Molenaar, a young Polish woman, brutalised by the craven (forgive the pun) behaviour of fascist thugs, but possessing language skills and beauty that can be used by the allied secret services. This first instalment of the heroine’s wartime adventures is an exciting romp, as the advancing German army threatens to capture Lenin’s Moscow mausoleum and in a potential propaganda coup, hold the icon to ransome.

The reader learned from the author’s blurb that Mr Craven started writing the book in 2006 and it took five years to complete. Still, in an exciting, fast-moving plot, the reader comes to learn about Eva and her serendipitous progress to fledgling spy and the well-honed story has clearly benefited from the original polish (sorry, can’t seem to help myself).

With Russia very much in the news, the repeated echoes of an “orgy of destruction” carry a contemporary poignancy, but while the backdrop is darkly familiar, the author’s focus on a woman’s wartime experience is both interesting and refreshing. More earthy than simply James Bond wearing nail varnish, in Eva, the reader glimpses a strong, determined woman, whose contribution to the 1940s struggle is both important and dangerous, but not without enduring the manipulation of spymasters willing to sacrifice all. Snatching romantic comfort in the most unlikely of situations, the tale is well-set for further episodes in this seemingly ever-fertile WWII soil. I look forward to Book 2 in the series, entitled “Zinnman” and the further development of the main character and her peers. I also wonder if the author has another such innovative plotline, around which to intrigue the reader with Eva’s ongoing adventures? Time will tell.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Salted Crowe

“A Kind of Drowning” was my introduction to the work of Irish, indie author Robert Craven and in Garda Inspector Pius John Crowe, the author has created a fascinating character, worthy of that most popular genre – crime fiction. This is a short novel and consequently the story is quite tightly written, but the pace of the action is engaging and the author has a good eye, which draws the reader into life in the sleepy coastal town of Rosscarrig, complete with its incongruous hotspot. “If Rosscarrig was slowly checking out on the gurney, The Boogie Woogie Cafe was the last bright pulse on the monitor.”

However, in an unusual departure, Detective Crowe is lying low following his suspension from duties. With his marriage recently flat-lined and his police career also hanging in the balance, Crowe is thrown the lifeline of somewhere to stay by a retired colleague and slinks away from Dublin to lick his wounds. Though three months without pay will be a stretch, the examination of Crowe, very much a fish out of water, is interesting and his befriending of local inhabitants belies the gruff, hard-baked exterior, though he’s not ready for hearth and slippers just yet.

The island of Inishcarrig lies off the coast, privately-owned by a Canadian billionaire, but comings and goings by helicopter and the unexplained death of a newfound, vulnerable friend triggers Crowe’s professional instincts. Despite his ‘civilian’ status, some sniffing around discovers that Crowe isn’t the only one flushed out from the smoke.

The deliciously nicknamed ‘Teflon D’ is a major drug dealer, but has also been experiencing some difficulties in Dublin and is rumoured to have moved to the seaside town, where Crowe has the invigorating salty oxygen of a busman’s holiday.

What I liked most about this book was getting to know the main character. ‘Podge’ Crowe is seriously flawed, yet the peeling back of some of the layers of his awkward complexity was a highlight. Moreover, removing the detective from the streets of Dublin also enabled the author to showcase a contrasting community, in which it is possible to simply bask in their ordinariness.

I was delighted to read on Twitter that Mr Craven, @cravenrobert, is working on further tasks for Crowe and I shall watch for the next instalment with interest.

Rating: 4 out of 5.