With thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the review copy
I hadn’t heard of Victor Bridges before spotting Trouble on the Thames on the Netgalley site. I requested it because it sounded right up my street, a 1930’s spy story possibly the next best thing to a 1930’s murder mystery. I enjoyed the novel; it’s pacey, well plotted and compelling. Although it’s not the greatest suspense type novel I have read – the tension wasn’t quite there for me – I would probably read more by Victor Bridges in the future. Definitely, Trouble on the Thames is a book worth reading, despite my – only very slight – reservations. Espionage, murder, escaped prisoners, amnesia all play a part in this almost forgotten thriller from 1945.
Set towards the end of the 1930’s when war in Europe already seems like a fore gone conclusion, Owen Bradwell; a Royal Naval commander returns to London to attend a medical board. While out at sea he had suddenly discovered himself to be colour blind – he knows already his days at sea are over. An old friend gives him a room in his flat – where a Jeeves type manservant ensures everything runs smoothly and Bradwell is greeted each morning with a sumptuous breakfast. Bradwell hopes an introduction to a big cheese in Whitehall will lead to gainful employment more challenging than other shore bound jobs. Captain Greystoke tells Bradwell about one of his former colleagues, who killed himself, following an act of Treason. Greystoke wants Bradwell to spy on the spy; Mark Craig generally believed to be a Nazi agent, the man behind Bradwell’s former colleague’s betrayal. The gang are holed up in a property on a little Island on Thames Ferry, close to Playford where Bradwell had been contemplating going for a little fishing. Bradwell is able to use his little weekend away as cover for his activities.
“Now that he was actually embarked on his adventure he was conscious of a feeling of exhilaration to which he had been a stranger since that fateful night in the Indian Ocean. With something definite to do, some really important task on which to concentrate his energies, the black cloud of depression so long hanging over his spirits seemed to have suddenly and miraculously dispersed.”
In Chelsea, two young women; Sally Dean and Ruth Barlow celebrating their first year in business together as interior decorators find themselves drawn into sorting out an act of blackmail against Sally’s sister. Sally’s sister, a silly woman who relies wholly on her beauty to get by, had a brief affair with Granville Sutton, a very unsavoury character, and wrote him rather compromising letters, now she is engaged to a rising politician and had received some nasty threats from her former lover. Sally is determined to help her sister by seeing blackmailer Granville Sutton herself – at his place on the river at Playford. Of course Sally is unaware of how many other people Sutton have upset, including Mark Craig, another victim of Blackmail – and gets rather more than she bargained for when she arrives at Sutton’s house.
London newspapers tell of a daring escape from Dartmoor, a prisoner has escaped, and is now making his perilous journey across the moor. First on foot and later by stolen motorcycle, the prisoner Wilson edges toward the capital and the river Thames. Who he is – and how he connects to the events on the Thames – only become clear later.
“As some ten minutes appear to have elapsed before the alarm was raised, Wilson must have had time to reach the shelter of one of the large straggling plantations that adjoin the prison. Since then nothing has been seen or heard of him. An intensive search of the surrounding moor, however, is now in progress, and with all the roads watched and every car and vehicle being held up for examination, it is not considered likely that the fugitive’s spell of liberty will be of very long duration. Contrary to the popular belief, founded upon sensational films and novels, every prisoner who has so far escaped from Dartmoor had been recaptured. In the majority of cases men give themselves up voluntarily on account of the hunger and exposure to which they are subjected.”
Granville Sutton is found with a knife in his back, and both Sally and Owen are right in the mix. When Owen Bradwell falls foul of the gang he is following, help comes in the unexpected form of Sally Dean. Nursing his wounds – Owen finds himself worried he might have blown his big chance – while finding himself very attracted to his rescuer. Owen is soon given ample opportunity to redeem himself when Sally is put in grave danger.
Both Owen Bradwell and Sally Dean are great characters – Owen is self-effacing and likeable, brave without any unnecessary machoism, while Sally is bright, tough and resourceful, a brilliant heroine who isn’t merely a romantic foil.