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THE KEY TO DECEIT by Ashley Weaver: Book Review

It’s 1940 London, and the city is on edge waiting for the much-feared German bombing to begin.  The war has been going on for a year, but thus far England’s capital has been pretty much spared.  That is going to change quickly, however, and Electra McDonnell is about to play a part in the fight against the enemy.

Ellie is a member of the safecracking McDonnell family.  Before the war they were famous, or infamous, for their ability to break into safes that were previously thought to be burglar-proof, but now they are (mostly) taking legal jobs as part of the war effort.  They were recruited a short time earlier by Major Gabriel Ramsey for their undeniable abilities, and their first job for him had been very successful.  So successful, in fact, that he’s returned to ask for their help.

Ramsey tells Ellie that the body of a young woman was found floating in the Thames.  She had no identification on her but was wearing an unusual bracelet.  It’s locked, and thus far the military’s efforts to unlock it have been unsuccessful.  The major came to ask for Ellie’s uncle Mick’s help, but he is away and out of touch, so Ramsey reluctantly takes Ellie to the morgue to try her luck.

She opens the bracelet and the tiny locket that’s attached to it, although the major takes care to see she doesn’t get a glimpse of what’s inside and sends her home.  After two days, Ramsey calls Ellie to his office and tells her that there’s no doubt the woman was murdered; a puncture behind one of her ears led to the discovery that she’d been injected with a poisonous toxin. 

In addition, when the bracelet was examined it became evident that the piece of jewelry was actually a miniature camera of German manufacture.  Ramsey believes that the woman was an Englishwoman recruited by the Nazis, that she was taking photos of the London docks and manufacturing plants around the waterfront to help them make certain that their bombs hit the most important targets.

At the same time, Ellie is given an opportunity to find out more about her late mother who was convicted of the crime of killing Ellie’s father.  She steadfastly proclaimed her innocence but refused to give any leads to the real killer.  Sentenced to hang, her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment when the authorities realized she was pregnant; she gave birth to her daughter in Holloway Prison and died two years later during the Spanish Influenza epidemic.  The McDonnell family has always refused to talk about the crime, and now Ellie is torn between wanting to know the truth and fearing it.

Ashley Weaver has written a vivid portrait of life in England’s capital at the beginning of World War II — its food shortages, its worries about the men and women in the military service, its fear of upcoming German bombs.  Ellie is a vivid heroine whose abilities, both legal and illegal, bring her to life for the reader, and the supporting characters–uncle Mick McDonnell, Major Ramsay, and her childhood friend Felix Lacey among them–are outstanding as well.

You can read more about Ashley Weaver at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

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