Now I must admit that it was mention of the blackouts of World War II that made me so keen to read A Scream in Soho. Set during the early days of the war the toppled buildings, sandbags, sirens, and rationing have yet to materialize so I was ever so slightly disappointed it wasn't quite the atmosphere I was expecting. And then I got over it, settled in, and let the story unfold.
Inspector Patrick Aloysius McCarthy of Scotland Yard is the sort of officer who isn't beyond bending a few rules to get the job done. His mind is continuously on the job with next to no allowances for frivolity of any kind. Swirling around the Italian cafés and streets of Soho is an undercurrent of surveillance between various mob groups and the law; some in suits while others walk the beat. The Soho-Italians feature prominently with Austrians and naturalized Germans their partners in crime. After a long night Inspector McCarthy is ready to collapse into bed but hears a scream travel along the still roads. Still in his pyjamas, McCarthy rushes out of his building to investigate...
'The two worn wells in the centre of the old stone steps were literally little pools of blood which had splashed as far as the ornamental fencing, fronting stone steps which again led down to a basement. Turning the sergeant's torch down there, McCarthy let out a gasp, and before anyone realized what he was at had darted down the steps to pick gingerly a three-edged stiletto, the blade of which was thick with blood!'
The lack of modern day forensics was something that jumped out at me when McCarthy places the blade and a bit of handkerchief in his pocket for safekeeping. Another moment occurs during a panic-filled phone call by McCarthy to Scotland Yard on what would have been a rotary phone before the days of 999. There are a few other things such as some very un-politically correct terminology and references to women that date this book but none of it should come as a surprise to anyone with an interest in the era. Or for those of us who thought heaven was a Sunday afternoon spent watching a black and white film on an outrageously small screen in a massive cabinet. I digress.
A Scream in Soho is wonderfully entertaining and even taught me a thing or two about this area's fairly recent history. I laughed while watching Call the Midwife last weekend when Fred mentioned 'the Italians in Soho'...references are everything! And it will make residents of London groan to know that in the 40s a really swish flat full of windows overlooking Park Lane went for £1,500 a year. But what is going on in that flat between the man with the icy blue eyes and the beautiful Tessa Domenico?
A terrific romp featuring a taste of noir with a colourful cast of characters. What's not to like about that, I ask you!