I’ve been a massive fan of Mark Ellis’s poetic and sensitive detective Frank Merlin for many years, and so I was excited for a new instalment to this incredible series.
It’s hard to believe that now there are 5 novels in the series, and that there’s another one that’s just come out! Dead In The Water is the latest addition to this amazing collection, and it shows Frank Merlin as a father and husband coming up against a range of different obstacles.
The book is set later in the war than the earlier novels in the series, in 1942, and the Americans have now joined the war against Hitler. Ellis loves drawing on real historical events and people in his novels, so there are plenty of mentions for history buffs to enjoy. When it comes to the fiction characters, Merlin and his team are now up against bureaucracy from both sides of the Atlantic and dealing with a spate of social unrest when a body is discovered down an alleyway.
At the same time, a shady art deal is going down, which has ramifications on many throughout London’s creative scene, including the purveyors of an avant garde fledgling literary magazine. This deal soon turns sour, and as Merlin’s body count begins to rise, he realises that something’s afoot that affects the very highest echelons of polite society.
From the very first page, readers are transported into the murky world of underground art dealing during the war, shady financial transactions and corrupt millionaires who use their power and influence for their own ends. The novel is a perfect blend of historical insight and a unique plot that holds the readers attention from the outset.
Every character is intricately constructed, and despite the sheer number of characters, the author still manages to make you care about or despise each of them. That’s one of Ellis’s key skills as a writer: being able to create characters you can hate, as well as those you can admire. It’s easy to craft likeable characters, but not so easy to write well-thought out individuals that are unlikeable. They might not necessarily be the villain of the piece, but Ellis is great at making characters who are unlikeable and, in many cases, downright creepy.
My one disappointment, and criticism, is that when I opened the book I saw how short it was. One of my first encounters with Frank Merlin was in Merlin At War, which was considerably longer than this. Having so much more to read makes me happy and means that we get to see more of Ellis’s little side plots. The author is amazing and creating unique and interesting characters, and he usually gives them more space so that their side stories really come to life.
In this novel, there are many smaller stories within the main frame of the narrative, and it would’ve been great to have them get more time and space within the book. Despite this, Ellis still does a great job of keeping them all tied into the main storyline, which concerned a shady art deal that goes horribly wrong. With a body in the river and the artwork gone, Merlin and his team face a race against time to uncover the truth. There are many suspects to choose from, and with the true ownership of this valuable art in question, there’s a lot to keep readers on their toes throughout this gripping thriller.
Also in play are the security services, a nephew of Merlin’s who’s working on a covert mission in London and a shady crew of sneak thieves trying to rob the wealthy individuals at the heart of the case. With so much going on, it’s no wonder that the book is so gripping it’s almost impossible to put down. You’ll be spellbound as you rattle around the world with Ellis’s eclectic cast of characters. Despite so many sub-plots, the novel remains surprisingly easy to keep up with, and the characters are so well-written that you’ll feel like you know them before you’re even 50 pages in.
All in all, this is another incredible addition to an already phenomenal series. It’s a great read for anyone who loves Frank Merlin already, and if you’re new to the character then it could be a good place to start, although I would recommend going from the beginning of the series. The novel covers have recently been redesigned and some of them have been renamed, so now’s as good a time as any to get into them if you haven’t already. I firmly believe that the Frank Merlin series is one of the best to be written over the past 10 years, and Dead In The Water is a truly great addition to it. I just hope the next one is longer!