THE INFORMATION OFFICER by Mark Mills
“They were still cut off from the world, alone, surrounded by an enemy intent on starving them into submission and annihilating them from the air. Twice the tonnage of bombs dropped on London during the worst twelve months of the Blitz had rained down on their heads in the last two months alone. It was an extraordinary statistic that conferred on their little island home the dubious honor of being the most bombed patch of earth on the planet.”
Review by Eleanor Bukowsky (FEB 4, 2010)
The Information Officer, by Mark Mills, takes place in 1942 in Malta, a “little lump of rock in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.” Major Max Chadwick’s job is to manipulate Malta’s citizenry by putting a positive spin on their grim situation in his weekly bulletins. Because of its strategic location, Malta has great military value, and the Germans plan to force its surrender by bombing it to kingdom come. Once a British crown colony, Malta is seventeen miles long and nine miles wide. The country is filled with underground caves, where the populace hides during bombardments. This small island has been conquered many times by nations wanting to control the Mediterranean and the countries that border it.
Amazingly, the Brits and the Maltese manage to hold their own against the Nazis. In spite of the deprivation and constant danger that they face, the Maltese refuse to yield to their better equipped and more powerful adversaries. In the midst of the chaos, an unknown perpetrator has been stalking, assaulting, and murdering local women who work as dance hostesses. In addition, an undercover agent is passing military secrets to the Germans.
Life on Malta does have its lighter side. The British know how to party, and Max has a fine time bedding Mitzi, who is married to Lieutenant Commander Lionel Campion, a naval officer who spends a great deal of time away from home. Max also hoists a few with his buddies, Ralph, a daring fighter pilot, Elliot, a liaison officer with the American military, and Freddie, a skilled surgeon. As the story unfolds, everyone waits and wonders whether Malta will be able to handle the furious onslaughts to come.
It is too bad that Max is such a colorless hero. Nor are the other men and women in The Information Officer particularly engaging. Although readers will want to understand how Malta held fast during World War II, the book would have been so much livelier with better-delineated characters and a more textured, subtle, and stimulating plot. Although Max is in love with a local woman, Lilian, who edits a Maltese-language newspaper, Mills fails to bring this relationship to life any more than he does the others in the novel. On the plus side, the author demonstrates the cowardice of the top brass who are determined to prevent panic at any cost, and the struggle of Malta’s inhabitants to remain sane while living in an exposed area targeted by a relentless foe. In spite of its flaws, The Information Officer is a unique and informative work of historical fiction about a fascinating place whose spirited inhabitants displayed remarkable grace under pressure.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 35 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Random House (February 2, 2010)|
|AMAZON PAGE:||The Information Officer|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Mark Mills on YouTube|
|EXTRAS:||Another review of The Information Officer|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||More murder mysteries set in war time:
A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd
The Good German by Joseph Kanon