Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Forest of the Night by David Stuart Davies

A fan of the PBS series, Foyle's War, I grabbed my copy of David Stuart Davies' Forest of the Night, the first installment in a new series set in WWII London, featuring private detective Johnny Hawke, with high hopes. Were my expectations met? Yes, and no -- and I'm not being purposefully coy here. The mystery subplot made for a very absorbing and intriguing; however, the history bits -- period detail, atmosphere, etc. were a bit paper thin, and the language seemed a bit heavy and clunky at times. All in all, though, I was happy with Forests of the Night.

When a jammed rifle causes ex-police constable Johnny Hawke to loose an eye and ends his grandiose plans of performing feats of glory for King and country, Johnny decides to use his detecting skills and become a private detective instead. Things start off slowly at first, that is until a rather dreary middle class couple, Mr. and Mrs. Palfrey hire Johnny to find their missing daughter. Plain and frumpish Pamela, who seemed to spend a lot of time daydreaming about film stars, had left home to move in with a girl friend, but now, Pamela seems to have disappeared. No one at her place of work seems to know where she has vanished to, and the girl that Pamela claimed she would be rooming with seems not to exist at all. Johnny starts his investigation immediately, and one of the first things he discovers is that Pamela was leading quite the double life -- remaining quiet and plain and frumpish for her parents, while blossoming into quite the glamour girl while at work. It is little wonder that Pamela decided to move out and leave no trace for her parents to track her down. Johnny thinks he knows what this case is all about, that is until this missing persons case suddenly becomes a case of murder and the list of suspects includes a well known film star. And even though the police have made a quick arrest, Johnny is quite sure that they have arrested the wrong person, and is determined to use all his detecting skills and ingenuity to nab the real killer...

Forests of the Night was a fairly quick and easy read. The plot wasn't too complicated and there were really very few plot twists, even though there were quite a few red herring suspects. Personally, I had anticipated a more complex plot and so was a little discombobulated by the straightforwardness of the novel. What I really missed though was the period details and atmosphere. Perhaps this was because I had Foyle's War at the back of my mind. This, of course, was not fair to David Stuart Davies and the book. However, while some of my expectations were unfairly laid on, I have to own that I did find the author's prose style to be heavy and clunky and jarring at times; and this really did not lend itself to very smooth reading. Not a bad read, though, when all is said and done.

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