Ungentlemanly Warfare by Howard Linskey #BookReview #BlogTour

A soldier and a spy, an officer but not quite a gentleman, Captain Harry Walsh is SOE’s secret weapon.

Loathed by his own commanding officer, haunted by the death of his closest friend and trapped in a loveless marriage, Harry Walsh is close to burn out when he is ordered to assassinate the man behind the ME 163 Komet, Hitler’s miracle jet fighter. If Walsh fails, there is no prospect of allied victory in Europe.

Harry Walsh is ruthless, unorthodox and ungentlemanly. He is about to wreak havoc.

I'm delighted to be sharing my review of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Howard Linskey today. My sincere apologies to the author, No Exit Press and Anne Cater of Random Things Tours because I should have shared this post on 3rd June but wrote the wrong date down in my calendar. I was mortified when I realised and can only say how truly sorry I am. Thank you so much for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and for my advance copy of the novel.

Ungentlemanly Warfare hits the ground running with a terrifically intense opening which introduces the main character, Harry Walsh and immediately impresses upon the reader just how dangerous his job is. It's also very soon obvious that his considerable expertise might be well regarded in the field but back in London, he is considered a liability by his commanding officer. Major Price clearly despises Harry and the old British class values are much in evidence here. Price views Harry as being some way short of a gentleman, having a travelling salesman for a father and only attending a minor public school thanks to a scholarship. Meanwhile, there are a few questions about Harry's history, particularly regarding his rapid rise through the ranks followed by his mysterious departure from his regiment. Nevertheless, somebody seems to hold him in high esteem and when a new and dangerous mission becomes necessary, they insist Harry is called upon.
Alongside the main narrative which follows mostly Harry's exploits, there are also scenes featuring the Nazis' increasingly urgent plans to release a potentially pivotal new jet fighter, the  ME 163 Komet. The ruthless drive to have the aircraft ready for action mean that Goering furiously replaces the existing scientists working on the project with Professor Gaerte but he also realises that failure will not be an option and is left in little doubt that suicide would be preferable to the alternatives should the unthinkable happen. The Allies are aware of the prototype weapon and learn that the Germans intend to carry out battlefield tests in Normandy. The order to assassinate Gaerte comes from Churchill and Harry becomes part of a 'Jedburgh' team consisting of an Englishman, a Frenchman and an American. If a return to Normandy isn't already unwelcome enough for him, it also means he is once more the target of the sadistic Gestapo officers, Colonel Tauber. He was once embarrassed by Harry Walsh and his overwhelming desire for revenge will make him a very dangerous enemy...
Throughout the book there are references to Harry's past, from previous missions to his time in the ranks and an explanation for his loveless marriage. These scenes give a sense of pace and continuity to the story; this doesn't feel like an isolated moment in time but rather an ongoing part of his life - he's a man with a complicated past and an uncertain future. He finds himself working with people with whom he has encountered before, with varying results. He came across the American agent assigned to the Jedburgh team in Yugoslavia and  Captain Sam Cooper's decision to leave him behind there clearly still rankles. However, as Cooper points out, Harry would have done the same thing if their roles had been reversed and it's easy to see that they are very similar men. Both are prepared to take pragmatic, ruthless action if they deem it necessary and are not concerned with the gentleman's rules for warfare. He is also reunited with female SOE agent, Emma Stirling and the sparkling chemistry between them suggests a passionate history between the pair although Harry is a married man and intends to honour his commitment to his wife. However, Emma isn't just included as a romantic diversion for Harry, she has a vital role to play in the proceedings and is an important reminder that both men and women were brave members of the SOE.
As the novel progresses it all becomes increasingly tense and dangerous for not just for those directly involved - their actions have consequences, with innocent members of the public often made to suffer as a punishment for resistance activities. The actions of the SOE and the Maquis are uncompromising and unpalatable but there is little doubt that they were also immensely courageous and their actions saved lives. I really appreciated the acknowledgement that the mental health of the agents suffered greatly due to the dangers they faced behind enemy lines. Harry muses that he intends to find the most boring job possible after the war - not that he really expects to survive - which underlines the treacherous fine line they had to tread between the innate fear and subsequent survival instincts triggered in perilous situations and the increasing, almost fatalistic acceptance of imminent death.
Howard Linskey's research is evident throughout and the book has an assured authenticity to it; I particularly liked the inclusion of real-life figures, including Elder Willis, said to be Ian Fleming's model for Q and Vera Atkins who is cited as the inspiration for Miss Moneypenny in his James Bond stories. I also enjoyed the quotes at the start of the chapters which range from the poetic and philosophical to the more observant or practical. Indeed it is Churchill's nickname for the Special Operations Executive as 'The Ministry for Ungentlemanly Warfare' which provides the title for the book.
I raced through Ungentlemanly Warfare; it's most definitely one of those books I'd advise picking up when you have a few hours to spare  - if you like gripping thrillers with a complex, morally ambiguous protagonist and an authentic sense of time and place then it will prove irresistible. I enjoy reading many different types of thrillers but if pushed, I'd say that I have a particular fondness for historical espionage stories and so had high hopes for Howard Linskey's book. It exceeded my expectations and was a captivating read from start to finish - I'm hoping for more from Harry Walsh in the future. Highly recommended.

Ungentlemanly Warfare is published by No Exit Books, purchasing links can be found here.

Don't miss the other stops on the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

Howard Linskey is the author of five novels published by No Exit Press, including the David Blake crime series, The Drop, The Damage and The Dead. Harry Potter producer, David Barron optioned a TV adaptation of The Drop, which was voted one of the Top Five Thrillers of the Year by The Times. The Damage was voted one of The Times' Top Summer Reads. He is also the author of two books set during WW2. Hunting the Hangman, is a historical thriller about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague during WW2. His new novel Ungentlemanly Warfare features SOE agents Harry Walsh and Emma Stirling, as well as American OSS agent Sam Cooper. Howard is also the author of four books published by Penguin; including No Name Lane, Behind Dead Eyes, The Search and The Chosen Ones in a crime series set inthe north east of England, featuring DS Ian Bradshaw, with investigative journalists Tom Carney and Helen Norton. Originally from Ferryhill in County Durham, he now lives in Hertfordshire with his wife Alison and daughter Erin.
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