Mist and mur­der

NICK RENNISON en­joys an at­mo­spheric crime thriller set in a post­war Lon­don blan­keted by deadly smog

BBC History Magazine - - Books / Fiction -

Breathe by Do­minick Don­ald Hod­der, 528 pages, £17.99

In 1952, Lon­don is a city still scarred by the Sec­ond World War – lit­tered with bomb­sites, rub­ble and ru­ined build­ings. Many of its in­hab­i­tants have been equally dam­aged by their ex­pe­ri­ences in the con­flict. Not yet out of his twen­ties, probationer po­lice­man Dick Bour­ton is haunted by what he saw as a sol­dier in Europe and, later, in Korea. To his col­leagues on the beat in the rough streets of Not­ting Dale he is an odd­ity. At home, Dick is learn­ing to share his life with his new wife, Anna, a White Rus­sian brought up in the far east, who proves an ex­otic ad­di­tion to the drab streets of Lon­don. Anna her­self finds the city a cul­ture shock and she is in poor health, made worse by the pea-soup fogs that de­scend upon it.

The fog al­ways brings plenty of deaths in its wake. Peo­ple with weak lungs and hearts suc­cumb to its ef­fects. But Dick is puz­zled by the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing one of th­ese deaths. In his own time, he un­der­takes fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tions and be­comes con­vinced that through the gloom, a preda­tor is stalk­ing his vic­tims.

Mean­while, a pe­cu­liar man named Christie – tout­ing his own quack method of cop­ing with lung com­plaints – meets Anna in a cafe. Des­per­ate and fear­ful of her hus­band dis­cov­er­ing just how se­ri­ous her ill­ness might be, she agrees to visit Christie at his home in Rilling­ton Place. As the worst fog Lon­don has ever known falls like a pall upon the city streets, and its in­hab­i­tants strug­gle sim­ply to breathe, both Dick and Anna are tread­ing danger­ous paths through the dark­ness.

Do­minick Don­ald’s novel is a re­mark­ably con­vinc­ing re-cre­ation of a Lon­don that, although well within liv­ing mem­ory, has van­ished for­ever. Rich in de­tail and di­a­logue that suc­cess­fully res­ur­rect the pe­riod, it’s a thriller that holds the reader’s at­ten­tion through­out more than 500 pages.

Nick Rennison is the au­thor of Carver’s Truth (Corvus, 2016)

Buses weave their way through heavy fog. A new crime novel imag­ines a se­rial killer prowl­ing through the gloom of post­war Lon­don

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