Click here to read reviewer Sandie Kirkland's take on The Information Officer.
Mills' latest novel combines the elements of espionage with a love story in a setting
as evocative as it is beautiful. Central to The Information Officer is young, handsome Major Max Chadwick. Assigned to the Mediterranean island of Malta, Max works in the Information Office, disseminating information to the locals and offering up for public consumption a cocktail of cold, factual, and apparently unbiased news along with the monitoring of enemy radio stations in the Mediterranean.
As the axis powers strafe the island, intent
on wiping out every aspect of the Allied presence, Max’s position and his very existence on the island is threatened when a serial killer is found to be murdering “sherry queens”
- dance hostesses who work the bars and bawdy music halls that infest the disreputable quarter dubbed the Gut at the lower ends of Valetta. An unlucky victim of the war, the only evidence Max has is the pocket of a torn shoulder tab that his best friend, Freddie, recovered from the clenched girl’s fist.
These heinous crimes thrust Max into his role as a defender of innocent victims while wartime Malta is rife murder, mayhem and espionage. Now Carmela Cassar, the dead dance hostess, has entered the mix, her pale, lifeless features rising to the surface “like some ghoulish phantasm clamoring to be heard.” Camela’s death is tainted with just enough ambiguity to arouse suspicion and get battered and bruised Maltese tongues wagging.
Mark is frustrated by a Malta Command who simply suppress the matter, quite content for local girls to keep on dying. Meanwhile, Max’s British colleagues revel in their little get-togethers, especially his commander, the self-important Captain Pendleton; his ex-pat friends Rosemund and Hugh, a lieutenant colonel in the Royal Artillery; and his colleagues Freddie and Elliott, “the tall American.”
Mills' prose is as grand and cinematic as the trials of his intrepid hero. Malta is brought vividly to life with its biblical landscapes and sun-bleached plains, the towns and villages scattered “like dice on a table top,” along with the beauty of Valetta and her twin harbors. Pummeled by the bombing runs, the splatter of shell bursts smudging the sky, and the arcing lines of tracer fire from the Bofers joining the fray, the beauty of the
island remains steadfast to the last.
Max walks the streets searching for answers, eventually falling into the arms of Mitzi,
the wife of a British officer, and later Lilian, a Maltese girl of mixed ancestry with her tales of dead girls and cover-ups. But this is a world filled with desperation, sorrow, hope and forgiveness, human drama summoned in bold, majestic strokes. The seeds of fear germinate in Max’s chest when
Lilian goes missing, suggesting something far more sinister.
The true identity of the killer remains shrouded in mystery, a puppet master surveying Max from on high, pulling his strings as all is revealed in a
suspenseful, action-filled and devastating finale.