Blood Moon Over Bengal

 
Blood Moon Over Britain
by Morag McKendrick Pippin
(Leisure, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-5582-1
****
Blood Moon Over Britain follows Morag McKendrick Pippinís successful Blood Moon Over Bengal, a debut novel set in the little-used time and place of 1932 India. This is not a sequel, but itís refreshing to see that another infrequent time and setting Ė here itís 1942 Britain Ė frames this spicy romantic suspense.

Inspector Alistair Fielding is called to a London flat to investigate what appears to be a suicide. Graham Masonís bloody demise in a bathtub sets off warning bells in Alistairís mind, however, and when he meets Grahamís cousin, lovely Cicely Winterbourne, his suspicions are heightened even further. Cicely claims to be a file clerk at a government facility called Bletchley Park, but Alistair soon discovers that she works for Britainís most sophisticated wartime codebreaking operation.

Cicely has reason to be frightened. Two men have died within the last month, both apparent suicides, and both part of the codebreaking operation, but she is sure that they were murdered. Now the killers may have her in their sights. Cicely isnít just a file clerk. Every decoded bit of information passes through her hands, and she knows things about operations on both sides, both German and British, that would shock the public. There are few people she can trust. One is her flatmate, Monty, a free-spirited woman with an eye for American soldiers. The other might be Alistair, to whom she is powerfully attracted.

When her elderly neighbors are murdered, along with another co-worker, Cicely decides to flee to her fatherís home in Cornwall. Sir Harold Winterbourne is a high-ranking official with ties to the British secret service, and if anyone can advise her, it will be him. Alistair insists on accompanying her on a circuitous route through Wales, then via ferry to Devon and on to Cornwall. Enroute, their lives are endangered. For Cicely soon discovers that Graham was carrying an important piece of information Ė the secret to breaking the newest code of the Germans, which has so far proven nearly impossible to crack. And there are plenty of people Ė on both sides of the war - who will kill to get their hands on it.

This is a romance on the run, as the action moves from London to the British countryside. Alistair and Cicely soon give in to their attraction, but neither one fully trusts the other. When Cicely breaks down and confesses some of the realities of Britainís war machine, and the devastating impact on innocent civilians who cannot be saved for fear of tipping the balance in favor of the Germans, Alistair is disbelieving, then horrified. His own experiences at Dunkirk left him with firsthand knowledge of the realities of war, and he bears shrapnel in his left knee as proof. How can his own country allow people to die? And is Cicely really telling the truth about all this?

Ms. Pippin does a wonderful job of portraying two people in wartime who cannot, by necessity, be fully honest with one another. Cicely is frightened but determined, and sheís more than willing to grab onto any happiness she might find with Alistair, no matter how fleeting. When her heart becomes entangled, no one is more astonished. Alistair is persistent, refusing to accept Cicelyís explanations at face value, and aware that he could easily fall in love with this courageous woman against his better instincts. Their romance is believable and all the more satisfying because of the obstacles they must overcome. It takes some concentration to keep all of the secondary characters straight, especially once they begin their journey to Cornwall, and at times itís a bit confusing. But itís worth the effort.

The author liberally sprinkles British wartime slang throughout her story. Most is easily decoded (no pun intended) and for those who are left in the dark, a glossary is included at the back. Far from being obtrusive, I found this touch made the story more realistic. Ms. Pippin doesnít stoop to caricature when portraying American soldiers, either, even though Cicelyís impression is the standard ďoversexed and over hereĒ stuff. Theyíre a mixed bag, as certainly they must have been in real life.

Fast-paced and engrossing, with a steamy romance tucked inside, Blood Moon Over Britain is the kind of historical romance we encounter all too infrequently. If youíre looking for something different, this will definitely fit the bill. Morag McKendrick Pippin may open a few doors for other authors to try their hand at atypical settings and time periods, and thatís something we can all applaud.

--Cathy Sova


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