The book opens with a pub fight on a cold, wet June evening in London in 1946. Danny McRae, “an ex-copper trying to make a living as a private detective in a rundown flat in a bombed-out corner of South London,” is also a former Special Operations agent and was for six months an inmate of Dachau. And he grew up in the Gorbals of Glasgow. (For strangers, that’s by far the toughest part of by far the toughest city in the UK.)
But the “mean streets” of New York and Glasgow have nothing on the mean streets of London immediately after World War II. The spivs operating the black market have more customers than they can handle. Men like Pauli Gambatti, whose hoodlums looted during the air-raids and sold their own stuff back to the people in Petticoat Lane, now have the whole thing organised.
Gambatti, predictably, does not like Danny. But what happens between them is far from predictable. As is what happens when a redhead called Eve Copeland walks into his office, a redhead who looks as though she “just stepped out of one of those sultry French pictures they sometimes show at the Odeon, Camberwell Green […] I could picture her under a street lamp in Boul’ St Michel, a cigarette hanging from her painted mouth and asking for a light.”
She tells him she is a crime reporter and that she can put business his way if he helps her.
But there is much more to Eve than that.
Then she is kidnapped, and Danny has to go to Berlin in search of her. Berlin in 1946 is even worse than London. In addition to the gangs of black marketeers there are agents and assassins working for one, or both – or all three – sides as Cold War breaks out, and the words right and wrong, good and evil, which seemed to make some sense during WWII, begin to lose all meaning.
Probably the best book I have ever read set in immediately post-war London and Berlin.