Book Review: Dead in the Water by Mark Ellis

  • Title: Dead in the Water
  • Author: Mark Ellis
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
  • Would I recommend: Absolutely.


Summer, 1942.

The Second World War rages on but Britain now faces the Nazi threat with America at its side.

In a bombed-out London swarming with gangsters and spies, DCI Frank Merlin continues his battle against rampant wartime crime. A mangled body is found in the Thames just as some items of priceless art go mysteriously missing. What sinister connection links the two?

Merlin and his team follow a twisting trail of secrets as they investigate a baffling and deadly puzzle.

My review:

I enjoy a good WWII historical fiction novel, but many of them are written from the perspective of women impacted by the war. Not a bad thing, merely an observation. I was excited for the opportunity to read Dead in the Water, WWII fiction told from a perspective I hadn’t yet considered: that of a police officer in WWII London, trying to solve a crime while working with the restrictions that came from dealing with foreign military in his country.

The book opens in Vienna, 1939. German soldiers have accosted the Katz family in their home and seized their valuable art collection. Fast forward to London, 1942. DCI Frank Merlin is investigating a murder, a body found in the Thames. He’s also tasked with finding missing art that was to be sold, allegedly some of the same art that the Nazis stole from the Katz family several years earlier.

Ellis illustrates how wartime may make uneasy bedfellows and makes points I had never considered. The Americans and the British are allies, but here we see the Americans working to have laws put into place that effectively keep the Brits out of any criminal matters involving American soldiers. We see, painfully, how the Americans brought their prejudice against their own when a prime murder suspect is a Black American soldier. The Americans have no trouble rushing to justice with him, even as Merlin tries to convince his American counterpart that the soldier could not have been the murderer. Watching that storyline unfold is painful, with American bias clearly on display. It had never occurred to me how civilian and military forces might work together when both are from the same country, much less where you have forces from different countries in your own.

The Russians are also in the war, ostensibly as allies. But there are concerns about agents and double agents, and Merlin learns that someone related to him (although not particularly close) has been playing a dangerous game.

I knew dealing in stolen art was big business after wartime, but I didn’t think about the possibility that it went on while the war was still raging. The wheeling and dealing that goes on with the efforts of two men to sell and acquire rare art is pretty mind-boggling. Interesting to consider that even those with high net worth might face some financial difficulty due to funds being tied up in other countries.

This story had several threads going at one time, and sometimes it was a bit of a challenge to keep it all straight! But Ellis keeps a good grasp on those threads, and ultimately weaves them together for a satisfying conclusion. I’m glad to make DCI Merlin’s acquaintance, and I look forward to reading more from Mark Ellis.

This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Crime Fiction, Detective Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.