Having said that passing of the crossword centenary would see an end to entries under ‘Book Reviews’, I have to eat at least some of my words. Here’s a crossword-related novel also tied to the D-day landings. It’s clearly something that your average paper-based publisher would run a mile from, but it’s ideal for e-publishing (inert argument about there still being demand in the long tail, and so on and so forth). So bully for PIQWIQ for taking it on. The author is a TV comedy writer, which doesn’t quite call for the same skills as a novelist, but it does read damn well as a comedy thriller (and I’d hazard that the crossword element may even have helped with the structure).
Anyway, we all know the “D-day landings and crosswords” story, don’t we? Not this one, where the familiar story of the Daily Telegraph unwittingly publishing the codewords for the D-day landings forms the basis for a more intricate tale of espionage, which has tendrils reaching down to the present-day and off into Stalin’s gulag. It’s somewhat annoying to have sub-chapters consecutively numbered 1 Across, 2 Across, 3 Across and so on. You want to shout: “No, 5 Across after 1 Across…” but the numbering is presumably for the mere mortals who read the book. Anyway, 1 Across et seq. cover the present day, 1 Down ff. the period around the D-day landings, and there are a few sections with chess-related titles that veer off into Stalin’s Russia. The set-up – a down-on-its-luck agency supplying word, bridge and chess puzzles – is a neat way to bring the required skills together for the solving of the code-related plot material.
I have my doubts about the clues, which are fine for the 1940s, but look a bit underpowered by today’s standards – it’s perhaps not too surprising that the agency is down on its luck. The necessary coincidences to make the plot tie up nicely do strain credulity towards the end (indeed, if you’re the sort of person who reads thrillers looking for such things, one is signposted rather strongly), but no more so than other books. I was grateful that the protagonist dropped his habit of picking out words from his thoughts, or other people’s speech, and pondering their clueability after the first few chapters. Just imagine intervening sentences in this paragraph where I wonder about clue ideas for ‘underpowered’, ‘credulity’ and ‘speech’ – invasive, no? (Now, is there a decent anagram for ‘intervening’? Hang on, where was I…)
This isn’t a long read, but it’s a jolly one, and well worth the few hours of your attention it will use up.
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