Book Review: The Information Officer by Mark Mills

Synopsis

Set in Malta in 1942, we follow the life of Max Chadwick in his new position as Information Officer, sent by the Brits to boost citizen morale as the country is bombed relentlessly by the Nazis. Popular and with friends who work in various different capacities, Max is privy to much island news that doesn’t get filtered to the public. He hears when British reinforcements are being sent in to fight off the Luftwaffe, planned Nazi invasions and air strikes, what’s happening with the Maltese government, and has virtually free reign in the hospitals, airfield mess’ and the RAF’s Operations Room thanks to his many contacts. But when Max finds out that several local women have been murdered by what appears to be a British officer he finds himself well out of his depth.

As Information Officer, part of Max’s job is assuring the Maltese locals that the British presence on their island is warranted and that they are doing everything to help the Maltese. If word got out that a British officer was killing locals, his position on the island and the welfare of many of his friends would be in serious jeopardy. The locals may choose that they’d rather be occupied by the Nazis than have continued presence of the British force. So Max must work under the radar to come to the bottom of these killings and carefully choose his confidants to get the most information without the scandal becoming public. Despite being threatened with losing his job at the very least, Max cannot be deterred and as the ramifications for him and those close to him become all the more deadly, the twists and turns crescendo to a shocking revelation that stuns both Max and reader.

Review

I am a big fan of any books, films and tv shows written in a ‘Whodunnit’ style and The Information Officer is no exception. I was hooked from quite early on, which is obviously what you want from any good novel. As always I was busy trying to guess who the killer was and I thought I had a pretty good idea after the first few chapters. At the end of every chapter you get like a sub-chapter written from the killer’s point of view so I was always trying to marry the impression of the killer from these with the characters in the rest of the book. I must admit at the end that I was very disappointed to find out that the killer was not who I thought it was and I think this ruined the book a bit for me. As I was reading the book with a certain person in mind as the killer, I must have interpreted various parts to fit with what I thought would be the case, so by the time I got to the end I couldn’t imagine anyone else being the killer. Right to the end, even when it dawns on Max and the reader who the killer is, I still kept expecting there to be another twist, a misunderstanding or something that would mean I was right. Don’t get me wrong though, I was enjoying the book the whole time I was reading it and I don’t think there’s any continuation issues that would make it impossible for the killer to be who he is, it was just a big shock. I’d like to know if anyone has read this and correctly guessed who the killer was.

One of the main things that sticks with me about this book is Max’s relationships with various different women. Mark Mills explains to the reader that Max never knew his mother, who died giving birth to him and I wonder whether this (and Max’s relationship with his stepmother) is supposed to affect his relationships with other women. I got the impression that he is always trying to charm and win over the affections of all the women he met, not just as potential love interests but in all kinds of different capacities. The most blatant example of this is the rather bizarre relationship we find he has with his French teacher who became his friend but is the only person he really looks to as a mother figure. She confesses to thinking of herself in that way but also as having once ‘wanted to carry him off to bed with her,’ which I personally think is a little strange. I’m also not really sure of her place in the story; whether she is really necessary, but I suppose she adds another layer to his story.

He has two main love interests; Lillian and Mitzi, who I would say have fairly stereotypical roles that we all recognise in books, tv etc, if not in real life. One woman he has what I would describe as a desperate lust with; she’s never far from his thoughts and any time they spend with each other is passionate and intense because ultimately they both know they can never be together. The other is a good friend who he’s had a couple of ‘moments’ with, that he never realises he has feelings for until he has it pointed out to him, and of course by then you’re wondering if it’s too late.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the crime/thriller genre. I’m not usually a fan of books set during the war, but this was alright because, while the war is obviously a big part of it, it is not about the war. Also, I didn’t know anything about Malta during the war so the book played to my love of learning new things and made it ok that it was set in 1942 because it wasn’t the same stories that I’ve heard hundreds of times about Britain and Germany, it had a new interesting angle to it.

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