four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
46-May-June-2010
By: 
Mark Mills
user_rating: 
0

A-The Information OfficerMark Mills is the author of the best-selling Amagansett (2004), about a Basque fisherman on Long Island, and The Savage Garden (2007), featuring an art historian in Renaissance Italy.

The Story: In May 1942, Axis forces have bombed the Mediterranean island of Malta. The bombing, far worse than the bombings London received during the Blitz, combined with the British efforts to provide more defense, provides a cover for a British officer who might be raping and killing local dance hostesses. Major Max Chadwick, the information officer in charge of controlling the island's news, secretly begins to investigate the murders while carrying on an illicit affair with a pilot's wife. He faces a moral dilemma: should he conceal news of the killings? If he doesn't, he may potentially alienate the denizens' crucial support for their allies' war effort.
Random House. 304 pages. $25. ISBN: 9781400068180

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[A] novel so triumphantly old-fashioned, so double-upholstered with the stuff of classics, it reads like the story of Casablanca revisited, like a vanished Graham Greene. ... [Though this utterly ravishing third novel seethes with femmes fatale and double agents, it most strikingly evokes Greene's colonial stories, especially The Heart of the Matter, set in Sierra Leone, and the Saigon saga The Quiet American." Daniel Mallory

NY Times Book Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"It's only a story. It's only a story. It's only. ... But the sense of immediacy Mark Mills brings to The Information Officer ... is so intense that this breathtaking novel reads more like a memoir than a wartime thriller. ... Suspects can fly off on reconnaissance missions or sail away on submarines, and the carpet bombings keep changing the physical landscape--dramatic events vivid enough to qualify as stunning fiction, but detailed enough to be verified in the record books." Marilyn Stasio

Guardian (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"A compelling, vividly rendered slow burn of a book which culminates in an electrifying climax." Laura Wilson

Washington Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Mills skillfully combines grim historical reality with murder in this tautly gripping mystery. ... Most memorably, his historical research offers a reminder of an often-forgotten fragment of a war." Muriel Dobbin

Critical Summary

Mark Mills's third novel--as magnificent as it is sober and chilling--evokes the horror of Malta under siege. The war, however, provides more than a backdrop to this superb spy thriller, gripping mystery, and work of historical fiction; it directs Max's choices as he sets out to investigate the murders. Critics lauded the plot's complexity, smooth pacing, and attention to detail. However, it was the sadistic killer--and his incisive, depraved musings--that really caught most reviewers' attention and that elevates this novel above its genre. In sum: a standout work deserving of a wide readership.