Trouble on the Thames by Victor Bridges (1945)

‘Trouble on the Thames’ is a wonderfully engaging human drama, laced with intrigue and suspense, and set in London just before the war. It was a time when many realised that war with Germany; and when some thought that would be a war that Britain couldn’t win.

Trouble on the ThamesOwen Bradwell was a young naval officer who had just come home after service abroad. He feared that his career was over, because it had been discovered that he was colourblind; but it seemed that the navy thought well of him, because he was offered a special mission. He was ask to carry out surveillance on Mark Craig, who was believed to be a Nazi Agent. He could set himself up as a fisherman near Craig’s house on the Thames, as he had been abroad there was no chance that Craig would recognise him, and he should be able to pick up a lot of useful information. He hoped that he would be able to uncover the kind of evidence that would lead to a criminal conviction.

Sally Deane was an interior decorator, running a successful business on the Kings Road with her friend, Ruth Barlow. Her sister came to her with a problem. She was engaged to a rising politician, but she was being blackmailed with a very indiscreet letter that she had written to a former lover. Sally had promised her mother, just before she died, that she would always look after her sister; and so she set off – in her sister’s place – to confront the blackmailer.

Mark Craig was being blackmailed by the same man.

And so four people converged by the Thames.

The blackmailer was stabbed.

Owen was coshed.

And Sally came to his rescue.

That was just the beginning; and those are just the bare bones of the story. There are lots of lovely details, the sense of place and period is lovely, and the story twists and turns very nicely.

Owen was an engaging hero; he threw himself into his new role, he was thoughtful, and he was modest. Sally was bright and resourceful heroine; she was loyal to her friends and ready to stand up for what she believed in. I liked them both, very much. I also liked the relationship that evolved between the two of them.

The villain of the piece was just as well drawn. He was one of those who thought that there would be a war and that Britain would lose, and so he was going to make sure he was on good terms with the Nazi victors.

Everything works together very well. I wasn’t quite sure how the convict who made a daring escape from Dartmoor Prison was going to fit in, but he did. The story rolls along beautifully. It’s firmly rooted in it’s period, but it doesn’t feel dated; the only thing that a contemporary author writing a period piece might do differently is leave out the odd reference to smoking.

I’d happily follow the characters from this story into a sequel, if there is one, and I’d happily try other books by the author. He had a long and successful writing career, but his books fell out of print. I know that there are an awful lot of books in the world, I know that their number is growing and growing, but that is something that happens far too often.

The British Library – in association with the Poisoned Pen Press in the USA – did very well to send this book back out into the world.