I’ve been skimming back over recent entries to try and figure out whether Cause for Alarm reminds me of another book that I’ve read – or whether it was just so well written that I felt completely comfortable and familiar slipping into the narrative. Either way I think it is actually a while since I read any kind of spy book – I’d guess the last would have been the Spy Who Came in from the Cold – and I would rate this a million times better than the latter – despite my never having heard of this before.
Cause for Alarm is set in 1938 and follows an out of work British engineer, Nick Marlow, as he takes up a new post in Milan as a stopgap. In the opening scene of the novel we witness his predecessor’s murder – so already we as readers know that there’s something amiss – but Nick quickly realises this for himself upon arrival – even just in the luxury apartment kept by the man on not completely such a luxurious salary. Already something in the situation – he’s selling armaments in fascist Italy which – while I don’t know much about fascist Italy, to be honest – sets alarm bells of espionage ringing for me straight away – if the blurb hadn’t set me off. Of course the problem with espionage is that it is rarely straightforward – and it takes a while for Nick (and me) to realise everyone’s intentions and who can be trusted (I’m not entirely sure you can ever be completely assured of that). What ensues is an extremely well written and captivating, suspenseful novel which also manages to be funny and clever.
I wasn’t really expecting much when I picked this up – I think actually it very nearly didn’t make the cut – but I’m glad I did and if there are any more books by the same author on the list I’ll be looking them out soon.