I picked this out of the bargain bin with an initial belief that it was a detective story.
Of course it isn’t. I bought it anyway, as I thought it might discuss how forensic science has developed since the war. It doesn’t.
I would describe it as a war memoir in a jolly hockey sticks idiom, punctuated by gruesome and pathetic anecdotes of the ‘real crime’ genre, first published in 1954. There were moments when it felt voyeuristic to read on, but there were also insights into how people struggled with their daily jobs through the Blitz – trying to black out, bearing to work in bomb blasted windowless premises, making instant calculations of inconvenience versus risk when the sirens went, coping with a London ‘particular’ in total darkness, the pronounced hatred for the doodlebugs, the description of war weariness as a chronic sickness, still endemic in the population years after 1945.
There’s plenty of humour. I liked the description of the Free French potential boyfriend moodily reciting Verlaine and wondering why Lefebure preferred a post mortem to his company. Some of the comedy is grim (look away now if you are sensitive): carrying a victim of infanticide in a suitcase through London and wondering what to say if officials checking for black market goods ask you to open the case. I shall always now think of Kent as a platonic county (very flat, Kent). And a handy tip from the East End if you feel you must take heroic measures and attempt to revive the newly dead: apply a hot flat iron to the chest …