BOOK REVIEW: RED RIBBON

 

THE RED RIBBONby H. B. Lyle blends fiction with historical reality.  The essence of the story is the up and coming British Secret Service that must look for spies on the home front and abroad.

Lyle noted, “I was inspired by the 100th anniversary of the British secret service.  While in the film industry, I was working on some spy movies and also read an official book on the anniversary.  American readers need to understand that the UK secret service is different.  In the States, it is a protective service, while in Britain it is split in two halves, to find spies in the UK and in other countries. They were after a lot of anarchists who were also known as communists. The East end of London had a lot of European agitators.”

Captain Vernon Kell became the head of the recently established Secret Service Bureau, but had only one agent, Harry Wiggins. Instead of looking for Russian and German spies Wiggins is pre-occupied with his own cases. As someone who grew up on the streets of London, one of the urchins trained in surveillance by Sherlock Holmes and known as the Baker Street Irregulars, Wiggins has promised to avenge the death of his best friend, and to track down a missing girl from the East End. The investigation leads him to a mysterious embassy located in the affluent neighborhood of Belgravia, which is actually a high-class brothel frequented by the rich and powerful of London. The red ribbon hanging in the window of “The Embassy of Olifa,” represents red as the color of revolution.

Historical facts include the deaths of Edward VII, where monarchs from all over Europe arrive for the funeral, “the greatest coming together of royalty the world has ever known,” with the fear that a potential assassin could spark a worldwide conflict. At the same time, dockworkers threaten to strike, people rumble about unions and revolution, and women suffragettes are becoming increasingly militant. Home Secretary Winston Churchill takes a hard-nosed attitude against all domestic unrest, fearing anarchists are infiltrating these groups.

“I wanted to show how the Irish wanted independence and began to militarize, something I will explore in the next book.  Also, readers should understand that half of the Kings of Europe had as a grandmother Queen Victoria.  For example, King Edward is a first cousin to Czar Nicholas of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm.  Only four years later they were all fighting in the First World War.”

The book does not put Winston Churchill in a favorable light.  “I do feel in many cases he was the bad guy.  Although he had a heroic role in the Second World War, I myself do not see him as a heroic figure and feel he has placed a high value on his own destiny. He had crossed the floor twice, flip flopped during his career: first a Conservative, then a Liberal, and back to Conservatives. His history is based entirely on 1940 to 1945, which is when his moment of destiny came.”

Readers can read this for a mystery and an understanding of events of the time.