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Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Mr Churchill’s Driver – A murderer’s story

The cover notes for this intriguing novel compare the author, Colin Farrington, to Peter Ackroyd or Ian McEwan. This is unfair to all three. Farrington’s talent is sufficiently distinctive to be judged on its own merits.

Like many subscribers to The Journal I am a fast reader. On holiday I can gallop through a paperback in a couple of days. Perhaps on the same vacation I may also enjoy a quick glass of wine. On the odd occasion I even stumble across something surprisingly enjoyable. That’s when I force myself to take my time, stop glugging and start sipping, all the better to savour what has excited my palate and to anticipate eagerly what is yet to come. Similarly, with this book of mysteries within mysteries. After reading a chunk of three or four chapters, I had to take a breath, digest what I had read and imagine what lay on the horizon.

The hero, William Gilbey, if one may employ this appellation for a psychotic murderer, is obsessed with solving a mystery, one which had been passed on to him by his father who had been a government driver. The older Gilbey was also the last person – claims the book – to be hanged in England.

During the early part of the Second World War Gilbey’s father drives Churchill to Holyhead for a clandestine meeting with the Irish Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera. At the time Britain was on its knees. Some in the British government believed the country should sue for peace. Could the young republic act as a go-between with the Nazis? Might Ireland’s price be a unified island? This question is set against a background of huge sums of money and valuables being despatched for safekeeping in England for fear of falling into Republican or Nazi hands. Upon his release from prison Gilbey sets about solving the mystery. But nothing or nobody is what it seems.

The principals in the author’s cast are Gilbey’s gang, Irish nationalists and MI5. Murder, betrayal and a frisson of lust seep through this polychromatic tale.

I met Colin Farrington several years ago. I recall he used to be a senior civil servant. This enables him to write with the smack of authority about the police and MI5’s shenanigans, even on events which the reader might find out of the box. He captures the languid style of the Security Service’s senior echelon with – and here the comparison is apt – the ease of another former civil servant, Le Carre. I loved the touch that masterpieces of stolen art might be hanging on the walls of that ugly building on London’s Millbank.

Although I’m sure it was unintended by the author, some of the class hatred expressed in his book resonates with the current Zeitgeist of millions of little people who feel left behind by the Establishment, or Nobs, as the characters in this novel call them.

To continue my wine analogy, Mr Churchill’s Driver builds towards a climatic maelstrom of some complexity which makes for a heady brew. This could be overpowering but the author, with skill and panache, carries the reader along until the last drop of a satisfying denouement.

Bravo, Farrington, I say. I look forward to your next book. In the meantime I shall start saving up for a decent claret to accompany it.

Jonathan Rush

Jonathan Rush’s political thriller, My Persian Girl, set in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution, is available through book shops, Amazon and Amazon Kindle.