The Czar’s Spy came in a kindle volume called ‘British Mystery Multipacks Vol. 6 – British Spy Mysteries.’ It contains two of my all-time favourite stories, The Riddle of the Sands and the 39 Steps, which is why I got it. Searching for an author beginning with Q for my Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge, I found William Le Queux’s story in it. I’m glad I did.
As with some of the other box sets I’ve read (such as the Emperor’s Edge), I’m treating each as a separate book for reading purposes. For this one, on Goodreads I’m putting them in as re-reads, making it clear in the review area I’m reading them out of order. I’m also finding a cover from Goodreads to use, rather than the box set cover, although the links are to the box set.
The Czar’s Spy
William Le Queux was a British novelist and prolific writer of mysteries. Indeed, mystery surrounds the author himself as to whether he was a spy or rather just a self-promoter. Regardless of which is true, Le Queux brings us a story of intrigue and espionage that travels across Europe in the true spirit of a good mystery. There are shootings, burglaries, romances, escapes from prisons, and intricate conspiracies that may surprise and leave you scratching your head as you try to solve this “whodunit”. In the best tradition of a good mystery however, you may need to wait for the final chapters to discover the truth. [goodreads, part of the multipack]
The Czar’s Spy opens with the protagonist standing in for the British Consul in Italy. It’s summer, it’s hot, and there’s a strange yacht run aground in the harbour. As they are British, they have to be looked after by the Consul’s office. It takes you back to the time when Italy, and most other European countries were Foreign Powers, and we Brits were sometimes friends with them, and sometimes enemies.
Aside for political comment: Strange to compare with my dad’s memoirs, because his sojourn in Brindisi was very definitely a time when things were Difficult. All my life Italy has been a friend, providing great work colleagues and a wonderful place for a holiday. At time of writing (early September 2019) we Brits are heading for being unfriendly with most of Europe. I hope it doesn’t get even worse. Back to the review…
Our protag is invited for dinner aboard said yacht while it’s being fixed. During said dinner, or maybe that night, the Consulate’s safe is burgled, using someone’s keys. Yes, our friend had his pocket picked on board the yacht. But now the yacht is gone… scarpered!
We shift scene to Scotland, where the shooting season is in full flow. The list of characters gets tortuous, then it eases again, as our protag sifts the evidence and finds four people who may not be who they seem. And eventually the plot thickens so much that I’m not entirely sure why he has to go off to Russia, or rather Finland under Russian occupation, to rescue a girl he’s fallen in love with through her photograph. But it’s very scary and full of atmosphere.
It may sound like I’m not enjoying this, but I am. It’s a cracking story, not always following logically, and I never worked out who was, or even whether there was, the Czar’s Spy. With allowances for style, the writing is excellent and, like other good period mysteries, it races along taking you with it.If you like The Riddle of the Sands and The 39 Steps, you'll enjoy The Czar's Spy by William Le Queux. #british #historical #spy #mystery Click To Tweet