From the publisher:
“When you’re done binge-watching The Crown, pick up this multifaceted wartime thriller.”
As London endures nightly German bombings, Britain’s secret service whisks the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret from England, seeking safety for the young royals on an old estate in Ireland.
Ahead of the German Blitz during World War II, English parents from every social class sent their children to the countryside for safety, displacing more than three million young offspring. In The Secret Guests, the British royal family takes this evacuation a step further, secretly moving the princesses to the estate of the Duke of Edenmore in “neutral” Ireland.
A female English secret agent, Miss Celia Nashe, and a young Irish detective, Garda Strafford, are assigned to watch over “Ellen” and “Mary” at Clonmillis Hall. But the Irish stable hand, the housemaid, the formidable housekeeper, the Duke himself, and other Irish townspeople, some of whom lost family to English gunshots during the War of Independence, go freely about their business in and around the great house. Soon suspicions about the guests’ true identities percolate, a dangerous boredom sets in for the princesses, and, within and without Clonmillis acreage, passions as well as stakes rise.
Benjamin Black, who has good information that the princesses were indeed in Ireland for a time during the Blitz, draws readers into a novel as fascinating as the nascent career of Miss Nashe, as tender as the homesickness of the sisters, as intriguing as Irish-English relations during WWII, and as suspenseful and ultimately action-packed as war itself.
A known fact about actions by British families taken during the period of the Blitz of London by Germany during World War II was the sending of their children out of the city to the country to escape those raids. Black’s book is an account, which he indicates is substantiated by the information he received, that the Royal family sent their two daughters Elizabeth later Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret out of London for the same reason.
The novel begins with the sending of the girls to Edenmore, a castle located in than neutral Ireland. They were accompanied by Celia Nashe, a British secret service agent, and Garda Strafford, a young Irish detective. In addition, they were protected by a company of soldiers that patrolled the grounds of the estate on a 24 7 basis.
Characterizations are extremely well done beginning with the young Princesses. Two young ladies that have been raised to always project a royal visage but are still girls that are away from home for the first time. They miss their family and feel hemmed in by the constant supervision they are subjected to. While at Edenmore they are to use names other than their real ones and keep their identities secret. Celia wants to do well in this, her first important assignment, but as a pretty young woman is subject to male admiration and her own interest in developing a romantic relationship. Strafford is also a young man involved in his first important assignment. While doing so he struggles with feelings or no feelings towards Celia.
The period described is relatively close to the war of Independence waged between Ireland and England and there are people described that suffered losses during that period to the British army. The author’s style and the story make the novel into one that is read with the reader’s interest kept up wanting to know how it ends.
1/2020 Paul Lane
THE SECRET GUESTS by Benjamin Black. Henry Holt and Co. (January 14, 2020). ISBN 978-1250133014. 304p.