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