In 1940 Hitler launched a bombing campaign against London. This blitz as the British press described it, failed to affect British fighting capacity or morale. However, in 1941 many other towns and cities in Britain were also targeted by German bombers, as the emphasis of the campaign switched to the bombing of industrial targets, particularly those linked to the shipbuilding industry and to port facilities. Thus locations such as Liverpool, Clydeside, and Plymouth received destructive air raids. Another city to receive its own blitz was Hull, and this is where David Young sets Death in Blitz City, a new departure from his acclaimed East-German-set Stasi series.
In May 1942, in the aftermath of a bombing raid, the mutilated body of a young woman is found in the ruins. But she hadn’t been killed by a bomb. DCI Ambrose Swift takes on the case, ably assisted by DS Jim Weighton and WPA (Women’s Police Auxiliary) Kathleen Carver. More killings with mutilations follow, and it soon becomes evident that there’s a racial aspect to the case, and that it’s connected to a regiment of black US soldiers stationed in Hull to carry out support activities at the docks. DCI Swift and his team bring the matter to a successful conclusion, with a last-minute cross-country dash to prevent another death.
Reading the book does raise an issue that’s relevant for all historical fiction: the authenticity with which language and attitudes are represented, particularly those which some people might find offensive at the present time. Despite the story’s focus on racially-inspired killings, the white officers in the US regiment are most careful in their choice of words, and the racially-motivated killers are hustled off the scene without being given the opportunity to air their extremist views. And Churchill’s racist attitudes, which were not out of the ordinary for the time, are alluded to in circumlocutions.
This is a significant issue for all historical writers, for we’re writing about periods in the past where attitudes were different from those of the present day. Attitudes to slavery, to race, to social groups, to women, to different nationalities, to old or to young people, even to animals, have been very different in times past (as also in different parts of the world today). The extent to which we should therefore try to make our narratives acceptable to today’s readers by excising the words and attitudes of past epochs is a difficult question, which most writers of historical fiction will confront.
As one would expect from David Young, Death in Blitz City is a well-paced and readable page-turner. Swift, Weighton and Carver have not quite settled into their stride yet, with Carver emerging in this story as the most sympathetic personality. I suspect that future books in this series will however see the characters’ personalities and their relationship with each other develop further, and I look forward to reading them.