The Reading Room

The Flowers of the Forest

Review of Flowers of the Forest by Joseph Hone….

In Joseph Hone’s The Flowers of the Forest (1980) we see a welcome return to the fold of his spy Peter Marlow embarking on a journey to discover the truth behind the disappearance of  Lindsay Phillips, Intelligence section head and father of his former lover, Rachel Phillips. The third book in the series of four, Hone once again demonstrates his ability to match the best of the spy fiction authors with his combination of plot, characters, location, dialogue and understanding of the life of a spy.

The key to any great spy novel are the nuances given to the characters and the situations, Hone was quite brilliant at adding layers to a character through snippets of seemingly irrelevant information and in Lindsay Phillips we are shown a man whose real identity politics are a mystery until the final pages.

Marlow is an unlikely hero, here he plays the role of family friend turned private investigator long since finished with British Intelligence but still seen by his former employers as a formidable threat or useful pawn depending on which side of the cabinet table the spymasters sat on. Along with Phillips’ wife Madeline and Rachel he takes in London, Scotland, Belgium, Austria and Croatia in a chase for answers to Phillips’ disappearance. Tormented by the notion of Phillips being a Moscow spy his gradual uncovering of what he believes to be the truth opens old wounds in his relationship with Rachel and the reality of his former life and the lies he told and lived for the great game.

The truth is to be found in the history books of Phillips past, buried deep in a Croatian cemetery before coming full circle to the forests of Scotland in what I can only describe as a kind of spy’s farce. Whilst not the strongest in the series it casts new light on Marlow and pulls the reader into a period of Yugoslav history from 1934 to 1946 which is seldom thought about but a disturbingly powerful and tragic reminder nonetheless.

Joseph Hone’s writing was the epitome of restraint and solid research, low on high-drama and fantastic plots, this is the stuff of intelligence gathering proper, it’s the proverbial game of chess and Hone knew all of the moves.

The Flowers of the Forest was re-issued by Faber & Faber in 2014 with an introduction by Jeremy Duns.

For a bibliography on the Joseph Hone ‘Peter Marlow’ novels please click here


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