We like to think our book reviews here on Undiscovered Scotland are objective. Just occasionally, achieving that becomes more challenging than usual. We should therefore start this review by declaring an interest. "The Danger of Life" has been written by a member of the team here at Undiscovered Scotland, and we've lived with its evolution, and occasional revolution, over a period of several years as it has progressed from the germ of an idea to a tangible object on the bookshelf. The important question is this. If we hadn't seen this process at close quarters, would we think this was a book worth buying and reading? The answer is an unequivocal "yes".
"The Danger of Life" by Ken Lussey is the author's second novel to feature Bob Sutherland and Monique Dubois and picks up not long after the end of his first, "Eyes Turned Skywards." Bob Sutherland had been a detective in Glasgow before the war, but his real love was flying and he went on to become one of the RAF's top aces during the Battle of Britain. Just as that battle was won, Bob was shot down: an event that, for a while at least, ended his flying career. M15 agent Monique Dubois, is a woman with a dark and exceedingly complex past, having at times spied for - or so they believed - various intelligence agencies including the German Abwehr. The two worked together well in "Eyes Turned Skywards," but they have both moved on since.
The book is set in late October 1942. Group Captain Robert Sutherland's first week in charge of Military Intelligence 11's operations in Scotland and northern England is not going smoothly. A murder at the Commando Basic Training Centre in the Highlands is being investigated by one of his teams, until events take an even darker turn that draws Bob in personally. He is also trying to discover who was behind an attempt to steal an advanced reconnaissance aircraft from a military airfield in Fife, an investigation made no easier by the perpetrator's death. The complication he could really live without comes via a telephone call from Monique Dubois. An MI5 operation she's been running in Glasgow, without Bob or anyone else knowing, has gone badly wrong, and she wants him to intervene before it is entirely compromised.
"The Danger of Life" is a fast-paced thriller in which the two central human characters find themselves in competition with a third, the brooding wartime landscape of the Highlands, a landscape in which the weather can turn at a moment's notice and storms can last for days. The action moves back and forth across Scotland, with much of it set in Lochaber, where the present war intersects with another conflict that took place two centuries earlier: with deadly consequences. The result is an immersive and thoroughly enjoyable read that takes you back three quarters of a century to a Scotland that was, in many ways, surprisingly different to the one we see around us today.