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, but now that I’ve discovered it, I’ll definitely be checking out titles in The Royal Spy Series and the Molly Murphy Series, both set 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.
In 1941 England, A parachutist falls to his death in a Kentish field, and 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 and owner of Farleigh Place, a stately country home and estate in Kent. As a war measure, the earl’s family has moved into one wing of the house, to accommodate the West Kent Regiment being quartered there.
Phoebe insists they must tell her father about the body; the earl passes the information on to Colonel Pritchard, commander of the West Kent Regiment; and, 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 of all sorts are rife in the community as well, resulting from the wear and tear of war on the psyche of a nation whose capital city has been under constant attack from the German Blitzkrieg, from a people whose children have been evacuated from the city and sent into the countryside to safety, and from a population that is wondering what will keep England from invasion and occupation by the powerful German Wehrmacht, to which Poland and Belgium and France had already succumbed.
M15, the British Security Service, becomes involved and sends Ben Cresswell, the local vicar’s son who is working for the government in London, home to conduct an undercover investigation of the case. By coincidence, Lady Pamela Sutton, the earl’s twenty-one year old daughter who is working at Bletchley Park in codebreaking, is also sent home on leave when she faints in front of her boss and he demands she take some time off to recover from the stress of working night shifts.
Ben has always loved Pamela, although he knows her heart belongs to his best friend Jeremy Prescott, an RAF flying ace who was shot down early in the war, and has been retained for the past two years in a German prison camp. Jeremy has now returned home to Nethercote, his father’s estate near Farleigh Place, to recover from his ordeal as sole survivor of a mission to escape the prison.
As the plot progresses through a tangle of unexplained events and circumstances, the loyalty of each of the characters comes into question, and 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, not to mention certain residents of the community such as the Austrian doctor, the two artists living in the oast house, and Phoebe’s faithful governess Miss Gumble.
The suspense grows as the scenes change from Kent to a party in London at Jeremy’s new flat, to secret government locations, to the Somerset countryside, and back to Kent at a special event hosted in honor of Winston Churchill by Lady Esme Sutton at Farleigh Place. By the time the plot is resolved, the reader has come to know a host of interesting characters, has learned much about life and conditions in World War II England, and has vicariously experienced 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.