“At ten o’clock of a rainswept morning in London’s West End, a young woman in a baggy anorak, a wooden scarf pulled up around her head, strode resolutely into the storm that was roaring down South Audley street”.
THE imagery is already set. The woman might be a Russian doll. We know the territory. The great JLC leaves us with this small mystery masterpiece, an intrigue told with an exact, easy rolling grin. The plot is so carefully assembled that any clues might give too much away, suffice we are in London, that we are in East Anglia, shades of the Middle East, of Bosnia. What is amiss now?
Some of it is delightfully bonkers. The secret green phone. The war medal, also green, which must never be worn. The secret letter from a man who can only speak in riddles, the whole family models of the British stiff upper lip. Yet this letter runs to six pages? And the 60 odd folks who appear at a funeral for someone supposedly so supposedly secret herself that you wonder how any of them knew her at all. And all these chaps who seem so modest, so self effacing, so dedicated are also quite well heeled, quietly affluent thank you very much, familiar with expensive burgundies, safe jobs for dangerous territories.
The Waterstone’s edition includes a sign off from JLC’s son Nick Cornwall aka a writer himself as Nick Harkaway which set off rumours that Cornwall finished off the book. Not so, but he does offer an explanation as to why this might have been the great man’s final missive.