In Fairleigh Field: A Novel of World War II, by Rhys Bowen

Author Rhys Bowen takes an eye for espionage into an English country home during war time. Fairleigh Place, home of Lord Westerham, is currently being used as the headquarters of military operations, leaving his lordship, wife, and the remainder of five daughters still at home to a reduced residential area and uncomfortable rations. One of those daughters is in occupied Paris trying to help extract her partisan lover from Gestapo hands. Another, Pamela, is using her German skills in Bletchley Park, where the German Enigma code machine has been cracked.

As all this is going on, a friend of the family since he played with Pamela as a child, has begun work at MI-5, the British secret service. Ben Cresswell has been assigned to help expose any plots of a group of English aristocrats who are secretly supporting the German war effort, either because of Nazi sympathies or a misguided belief that bringing the war to an early end would benefit Britain. The plot seems to be deepening when a mysterious parachutist dressed in a British uniform falls to his death in a Fairleigh field when his parachute fails to open.

Ben Cresswell’s work brings him back in contact with Pamela, with whom he’s been in love since his teens, and together they discover a plot to kill the king and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The ultimate hope is that they can restore Edward VIII to the throne because of his pro-German sympathies.

For a book about spies and assassinations Bowen manages to spend lots of time dealing with upper class family life during the initial years of the war. Lord Westerham has his hands full trying to preserve the honor of his daughters with the majority of the family mansion overrun with soldiers. The problem is exacerbated by one of the sisters’ disappointment that the war has cheated her of the normal tradition of being presented to society, and more than a little sexual tension in a world where a life-ending bomb might drop any night.

I’ve read two Bowen books (the other was On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service) and both have happened to involve Edward VIII, who abdicated to marry Mrs. Wallis Simpson before the war. This book never features him as a character but his presence off state looms large.

Bowen keeps a great balance of intrigue and humor going in the book while providing an interesting picture of England at war. The ultimate secret in the book is kept well hidden until just a few pages before the final action begins and the whole book resolves in a positive way for several favorite characters.