26 Feb Historical Novel Book Review: In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen
Review of Engaging Historical Novel
I just finished reading a delightful book, In Farleigh Field:A Novel of World War II, by Rhys Bowen. Bowen’s work is new to me. Now that I’ve discovered it, I’ll definitely be checking out some of her other works. The Royal Spy Series and the Molly Murphy Series take place in the early to mid 1900’s. However, this is a stand alone book, which interested me because of my love of historical novels set in World War II.
I wasn’t certain I would like it when I discovered that it was a story about espionage. However, as I read on I found that the book contained just the right amount of intrigue, mixed with history, romance and family drama, to keep me engaged until the last page.
A Parachutist Falls to His Death in a Kentish Field
In 1941 England, A parachutist falls to his death in a Kentish field. The body is discovered by a gamekeeper’s boy named Alfie, and Lady Phoebe Sutton, the twelve-year old daughter of Roderick Sutton, the Earl of Westerham.
The Earl is owner of Farleigh Place, a stately country home and estate in Kent. As a war measure, he and his family move into one wing of the house, to accommodate the West Kent Regiment being quartered there.
Following the discovery of the body, Phoebe insists on telling her father. The Earl then passes the information on to Colonel Pritchard, commander of the West Kent Regiment. Suspicions arise that the soldier may have been a German spy sent to make contact with certain upperclass British sympathizers promoting the Nazi invasion of the country.
Speculations are Rife in the Community
Speculations of all sorts are rife in the community. War takes its toll on a nation with a capital city under constant attack from the German Blitzkrieg. Parents must evacuate their children from the city and send them into the countryside to safety. Poland and Belgium and France succumb to the powerful German Wehrmacht, causing the population to wonder what will keep England from invasion and occupation as well.
In response to the discovery, M15, the British Security Service, sends Ben Cresswell home from London to conduct an undercover investigation of the case. Ben is the local vicar’s son.
By coincidence, Lady Pamela Sutton, the Earl’s twenty-one year old daughter is working at Bletchley Park in codebreaking. When she faints in front of her boss, he demands she take some time off to recover from the stress of working night shifts. Now Pamela returns home as well.
Ben has always loved Pamela. However, he knows her heart belongs to his best friend Jeremy Prescott. Jeremy is an RAF flying ace, shot down early in the war. Retained for the past two years in a German prison camp, Jeremy returns home to Nethercote, his father’s estate near Farleigh Place. There, he will recover from his ordeal as sole survivor of a mission to escape the prison.
The Loyalty of Each of the Characters Comes into Question
The plot progresses through a tangle of unexplained events and circumstances. In the process, the loyalty of each of the characters comes into question. The reader begins to consider one and then the other as a possible suspect. In addition to Ben and Pamela and Jeremy, the motives of another of the Sutton daughters now living in Paris comes into question. Other residents of the community come under suspicion as well. For example, the Austrian doctor, the two artists living in the oast house, and Phoebe’s faithful governess Miss Gumble, come under investigation.
The suspense grows as the scene changes from Kent to a party in London at Jeremy’s new flat. Next, there’s a foray into the Somerset countryside and a visit to secret government locations.
A Satisfying Conclusion
The final scenes take place in Kent. Lady Esme Sutton hosts a special event in honor of Winston Churchill. Before the plot resolves, the reader meets a host of interesting characters, learns about life and conditions in World War II England, and vicariously experiences the dangers and thrills of a life of espionage. I’d say that’s a pretty good bargain for any book to deliver! That’s why I highly recommend In Farleigh Place for your reading pleasure.