The Quality of Mercy
2 Aug 2006
David Roberts discusses his forthcoming historical crime novel The Quality of Mercy
Although we worry about the Middle East and the possibility that some fanatic might use a nuclear weapon, we do not live under the threat of total disaster – even annihilation – as did those of us who grew up during the Cold War. In the Cuban Missile Crisis we believed with justification that nuclear war might destroy our world and there was nothing we as individuals could do about it.
The same dread possessed those living in the latter half of the 1930s. The ‘war-to-end-all-wars’ turned out to have been merely a truce. Every effort was made by the democracies to prevent a new, more horrible war but most people knew in their hearts that war was inevitable – the only question was when. Appeasement was the official policy of the British Government. Prime Minister Chamberlain believed that the ravening monster that was Nazi Germany could be sated once it had swallowed up all German-speaking Europe but every bone that was thrown to Hitler made him hungrier. He sensed that Britain and France were so reluctant to stand up to him that he could do what he liked with impunity.
In March 1938 Hitler marched into Austria to be greeted by cheers from most of the population. Hitler declared a new Greater Reich. This was the Anschluss. Hitler hated Vienna where he had been humiliated as a poor art student in the 20s so made Linz the new provincial capital and left Austria’s Jews to the tender mercies of the SS under Adolph Eichmann.
Verity, the New Gazette’s correspondent in Vienna is dismayed to see how easily Hitler has gobbled up another country and is equally appalled at the lack of interest the English display. As a Communist she is lucky to escape Vienna with her life but she does not enjoy having to hang about at home twiddling her fingers while history is being made across the Channel. She has one satisfaction: before she leaves Vienna she manages to help an Austrian Jew escape to England. But he finds only danger where he had hoped to find refuge.
Edward meanwhile meets an old school chum, a Maharaja no less who is staying with Lord Louis Mountbatten at his country house, Broadlands. Murder is another visitor to Broadlands and Edward and Verity have to investigate a killing much too close to home for comfort. And Verity’s dog Basil causes mayhem on the polo ground.
Verity and Edward have to answer the question – what does one man’s death matter when so many hundreds of thousands are dying under Nazi rule. One answer is supplied by the Kindertransport – the effort Britain made to rescue Jewish children from Vienna and Berlin. In the last years before war broke out, the trains rumbled across Europe many taking Jews to Concentration camps but some carrying children to safety in England. Just ten thousand children were saved but all of whom would otherwise have died in Nazi death camps.
As the threat of total war looms, the mood darkens but at least Verity is now able to see that Edward is the man she loves. I have been so grateful for all your letters and emails about the series and about Edward and Verity’s troubled relationship. I hope that after the misunderstandings between the two of them peace and love, as we used to say in the 60s, will now prevail but somehow I doubt it.
Good reading and do let me know what you think but remember the quality of mercy is not strained but droppeth like the gentle rain from heaven!