Tuesday, January 17, 2023

The Labyrinth Makers by Anthony Price

Title: The Labyrinth Makers
Author: Anthony Price (1928-2019)
Publication: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, paperback, 2010 (originally published in 1970)
Genre: Mystery
Setting: 20th century Britain
Description: David Audley is a historian for Britain’s Ministry of Defense whose research expertise is the Middle East, when he is woken up by the telephone in the middle of the night, summoned to a 6 am meeting in London, and told to dress for a funeral. A WWII airplane and its pilot have been discovered in a newly-drained lake in Southern England. Dr. Audley is asked to help figure out why the Russians were interested in the plane and its cargo both in 1945 and now that it has been found. The funeral is for the pilot, John Steerforth, an RAF officer who appears to be the key to the puzzle and, unexpectedly, his adult daughter Faith decides to help Audley with the investigation.

My Impression: Anthony Price wrote 19 espionage novels featuring Audley or his colleagues, and most had a military history theme as this does. Audley is somewhat arrogant but occasionally realizes it, which makes him likable. Before this book begins, he has a desk job and being sent into the field to investigate Steerforth reveals his lack of experience: failing to watch a back door allows a witness to be murdered. Faith Steerforth is an unpredictable addition to his life just as his professional life is upended and he is not sure how both can be combined:
“Be serious, Faith – just for a moment. You know what I mean. What you call a game – I shall go on playing it if they’ll let me. I think it’s important and I’m not going to give it up. But you hate it, don’t you?”
I am a bit skeptical about Faith’s instant attraction to Audley, who is much older and sometimes condescending but perhaps she needed a father figure after Steerforth’s early demise. It is so long since I read these books that I don’t recall how their relationship develops but Audley is not always the protagonist of this series so she is not in every book.
At one point in the book, Audley visits a German historian near the British Museum to try out a theory on him. His elderly friend has just finished reading The Lord of the Rings, which he describes as a fairy tale for adults. Audley has heard of Tolkien but says “fairy stories really aren’t my line.” However, articles about Price reveal that, as a journalist, he actually visited Tolkien to interview him and review the books when they first came out, and it sounds as if Price was a fan even if Audley is not. I guess he is making fun of his own character which I found amusing.

What genre is this book? If your definition of a mystery is that the protagonist is trying to discover the truth about an event, usually a murder, then this fits; it is more puzzle than suspense. Moderate danger may occur but usually becomes a problem only as the protagonist approaches the truth; check. Price’s books are more like Robert Goddard's or Mick Herron's than a traditional cozy mystery novel and, like theirs, are quite addictive.  If you like espionage and history with your mystery, you will enjoy Price's books.

This was my first Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge of 2023.  Here is a link to Tracy's more detailed review at Bitter Tea and Mystery.
Source: Copy purchased for my brother.  He seems to be reading Willa Cather at the moment but he has enjoyed Alan Furst in the past so I think he would like Price's combination of espionage and history.


TracyK said...

Constance, Thanks for linking to my review. Your review makes me want to reread this one (and I do keep my copies of this series for rereading). But I have 14 more books to read in the series so I will keep plugging away on those.

Cath said...

Well, this sounds very interesting. I'm not a huge espionage fan, I find that if you blink you miss something crucial and lose the plot. LOL! But I do like the sound of this one and will check it out.