“In Farleigh Field” by Rhys Bowen is a fact-filled historical mystery. The story takes place during 1941 in the English countryside. Inspired by the events of World War II, this is a sweeping and riveting stand-alone novel involving class, family, love, and betrayal.
She wanted to write about this era since, “I think it was the last time we had a feeling of good versus evil.”
“Everybody felt if we do not stop the evil it would be the end of the world,” Bowen said. “Because of that they were willing to make sacrifices with a great sense of duty where everyone rooted for each other. I was born in the middle of World War II. Even after the war, in England, everything was rationed until 1953, and every time you went for a walk you passed a bombsite. It was a grim atmosphere.”
The plot is built around three life long friends: Ben Cresswell, the Vicar’s son, who now serves as a homeland spy, Lady Pamela Sutton, the middle daughter of an aristocratic family who decodes German correspondence at Bletchley, and Jeremy Prescott, an injured RAF fighter pilot. Their carefree youth is contrasted with the dangers of the Nazis.
They are trying to find out about a German that died parachuting into the countryside. Many believe his mission was to deliver a mysterious message to a German spy on how to assassinate either the royal family or Winston Churchill. The suspect pool grows as the people of interest include an English P.O.W. who escaped, those escaping the German atrocities, Canadians, a governess and someone who could be a double spy.
The main and supporting characters created are very intriguing and engaging. Readers will wish Bowen would continue to re-visit them by turning the stand-alone into a series. The two male characters are Ben who is smart and loyal, while Jeremy is the ultimate bad boy. Besides Pamela, her sister Margot allows people to get a view of the German brutalities. The youngest, Phoebe, of the five Sutton daughters, befriends Alfie, taken in by the groundskeeper for safety reasons. All desire to discover the identity of the German spy.
Bowen also writes of Farleigh Field as if it is a character. In many ways it becomes the central element of the plot considering it serves as the headquarters of a British armed forces unit.
Bowen contrasts the two male leads, “Jeremy was the ultimate bad boy. He was charismatic, dashing, and daring. If I was a young girl I would have been attracted to him. As Pamela says in the book, ‘you knew you would not be quite safe with Jeremy, but you knew you were alive.’ She took for granted he would marry her, but all he wanted was sex. Ben on the other hand was someone you would turn to if you were in trouble, like an older brother. He was kind, loyal, dependable, and considerate.”
Because of its location, Farleigh Field is the setting where espionage and mysterious events occur, drawing in the countryside aristocracy. Many lost privilege, property and power as their estates were taken over by the war effort. Bowen brilliantly and interestingly describes the culture of the time where the rich and powerful either made sacrifices with the rest of the English population, or were the ones who chose to join an organization that believed in making a peace with Hitler.
This story of war, love and mystery is extremely suspenseful. It is both realistic and believable. Through the character’s eyes readers will be drawn into the era and begin to understand the sacrifices and hardships placed on English society.