Review of IN FARLEIGH FIELD & Rhys Bowen Interview
IN FARLEIGH FIELD by Rhys Bowen is a fact filled historical mystery. The story takes place during 1941 in the English countryside. Inspired by the events of World War II this is a sweeping and riveting stand-alone novel involving class, family, love, and betrayal.
The plot is built around three life long friends: Ben Cresswell, the Vicar’s son, who now serves as a homeland spy; Lady Pamela Sutton, the middle daughter of an aristocratic family who decodes German correspondence at Bletchley; and Jeremy Prescott, an injured RAF fighter pilot. Their carefree youth is contrasted with the dangers of the Nazis. They are trying to find out about a German that died parachuting into the countryside. Many believe his mission was to deliver a mysterious message to a German spy on how to assassinate either the Royal Family or Winston Churchill. The suspect pool grows as the people of interest include an English POW who escaped, those escaping the German atrocities, Canadians, a governess, and someone who could be a double spy.
The main and supporting characters created are very intriguing and engaging. Readers will wish Bowen would continue to re-visit them by turning the stand-alone into a series. The two male characters are Ben who is smart and loyal, while Jeremy is the ultimate bad boy. Besides Pamela, her sister Margot allows people to get a view of the German brutalities. The youngest, Phoebe, of the five Sutton daughters, befriends Alfie, taken in by the groundskeeper for safety reasons. All desire to discover the identity of the German spy. Bowen also writes of Farleigh Field as if it is a character. In many ways it becomes the central element of the plot considering it serves as the headquarters of a British armed forces unit.
Because of its location, Farleigh Field is the setting where espionage and mysterious events occur, drawing in the countryside aristocracy. Many lost privilege, property, and power as their estates were taken over by the war effort. Bowen brilliantly and interestingly describes the culture of the time where the rich and powerful either made sacrifices with the rest of the English population, or were the ones who chose to join an organization that believed in making a peace with Hitler.
This story of war, love, and mystery is extremely suspenseful. It is both realistic and believable. Through the character’s eyes readers will be drawn into the era and begin to understand the sacrifices and hardships placed on English society.
Q/A with the author below:
IN FELEIGH FIELD by Rhys Bowen is a fact filled historical mystery. The story takes place during 1941 in the English countryside. Inspired by the events of World War II this is a sweeping and riveting stand-alone novel involving class, family, love, and betrayal. After a German parachuter plummets to his death this English town is turned upside down as people struggle to find out what his mission was, and is there a German spy in their midst.
Elise Cooper: Will you turn this into a series?
Rhys Bowen: No. It was meant to be a stand-alone novel. Even though at the end of the book I did leave some openings I really wanted to make sure this is not a series. For so long, I have always wanted to write about WWII. I enjoyed coming to a conclusion and moving on to other stories. With my two series I write in the first person. This makes the world intimate, but also is limiting since I cannot write about anything my character does not know. The world is seen through their eyes. With this book I had a much bigger scope and was able to focus on all the characters including Jeremy, Ben, Pamela, and her sisters. I was able to write the many different perspectives.
EC: Will there be another stand-alone?
RB: Yes. Next year the story will take place in Tuscany. It alternates between WWII and the 1970s. A British airman crashes and the story covers what happens to him. In the 1970s his daughter tries to find out about the incident.
EC: Why the WWII era?
RB: I think it was the last time we had a feeling of good versus evil. Everybody felt if we do not stop the evil it would be the end of the world. Because of that they were willing to make sacrifices with a great sense of duty where everyone rooted for each other. I was born in the middle of World War II. Even after the war, in England, everything was rationed until 1953, and every time you went for a walk you passed a bombsite. It was a grim atmosphere.
EC: Women played an important role during WWII?
RB: Both World Wars gave women opportunities they never would have had. This is why Pamela had such an important job at Bletchley. I got inspiration from my aunt who was with the British Navy. But unfortunately, after the war when the men came back home she was out of a job. I was struck by the fact that people like Pamela were not able to disclose what they did until the mid-1990s. Even Kate Middleton’s grandmother did not tell anyone about her job until a few years ago. People’s families did not know they had done something patriotic and brilliant. Many of the men like Ben were seen as pathetic because they were not fighting when in fact they were doing something that was saving their fellow citizens lives.
EC: You also speak of how many in the aristocracy were Pro-German?
RB: This was one of the reasons I wrote the book. The group actually existed, a pro-Fascist movement. Edward VIII even had direct Nazi links. I changed the name of the group to the Ring. These were very influential aristocrats who felt England would be much better off it they made a deal with the Germans because Britain could not win. The sentiment was to stop the war before England was bombed to pieces. They ignored the fact it would have become a puppet state.
EC: How would you contrast the two male leads: Jeremy Prescott and Ben Cresswell?
RB: Jeremy was the ultimate bad boy. He was charismatic, dashing, and daring. If I was a young girl I would have been attracted to him. As Pamela says in the book, ‘you knew you would not be quite safe with Jeremy, but you knew you were alive.’ She took for granted he would marry her, but all he wanted was sex. Ben on the other hand was someone you would turn to if you were in trouble, like an older brother. He was kind, loyal, dependable, and considerate.
EC: Was Madame Gigi Armande based upon someone?
RB: Yes, Coco Chanel. She did well in the war because she had a German lover who was very high up. Because of this she lived in luxury at the Ritz. I consider her a complete selfish opportunist who would do anything to survive, knowing the Germans were actually starving people to death.
EC: Did the aristocracy make sacrifices?
RB: Their houses were taken over with some turned into schools or living quarters for the soldiers. They felt they made sacrifices considering they only were able to have one wing of their huge estates. But regardless, many from all different classes had the attitude that Hitler must be stopped. I had a character express the sentiment that if the Germans came they would meet them with everything and anything including picks and shovels. This is a David versus Goliath story.