The Fox from his Lair
Original pub. year unknown, Kindle edition © 2020
In the wake of a disastrous training exercise, bodies are washing up on the shores of England. If intelligence from one of those bodies falls into German hands, the Allies’ hopes for opening the second front may be washed up as well. In The Fox from his Lair, Max Hennessy delivers a rare departure from his stock-in-trade, giving us a murder mystery set during the days leading up to WW2. A pair of officers in American and British intelligence put aside their mutual annoyance and track down an dangerous German spy — a chameleon with a half-score of identities and certain knowledge of D-Day’s logistics. If he’s able to convey his information across the channel, the invasion could meet certain ruin and doom Europe for years.
I started reading Hennessey last year, for his World War 1 aviation novels; he proved to have a host of series set during the World Wars, but the ones I tried all followed a pattern: we meet a young man immediately before the war, follow him through trials and tribulations in the conflict, see him struggle and rise in the ranks as the conflict goes. There’s also usually a psychological element, from a fickle girl at home to dying friends at the front. The Fox from his Lair utterly departs from that general line of plot, though: instead, having our two detectives frantically chasing a very resourceful spy as the Allied armies prepare to invade Festung Europa. It’s…a funny sort of mystery, though, because it’s mostly a chase, and the two detectives actually join the invasion just so they can search the ranks. Hennessy indicates in the forward that this is based on a true event, but it borders on the absurd: two intelligence officers on Omaha beach, asking soldiers who have landed in hell and are fighting their way up to the beaches if they’ve seen this chap?
Although the mystery-chase itself is a little disappointing, being mostly running around, Hennessy immerses the reader in the details of southern England, May-June ’44: one can feel the tension as an enormous machine is set in motion, charging forward into the darkness of history yet unwritten, with a thousand things that could go wrong just waiting to happen. Hennessy startles me time and again with details about the war years I’ve missed before — like the existence of German “E-boats”, fast torpedo boats that proved a deadly threat despite their size. If you’re wanting an unusual mystery, this may be the ticket: I guarantee it’s the only mystery to ever culminate on Omaha Beach!