Who Killed Enoch Powell?: by Arthur Wise

The assassination is real enough, and nicely underplayed; but what follows is a grab-bag of small arms. Public disquiet leads a weak Prime Minister to appoint ex-colonial military hard-man, Colonel Monckton, to lead the investigation. Meanwhile rightist and anarchist groups seize the opportunity to cause mayhem. There are widespread race riots in London, and at Powell's funeral in Wolverhampton, leading to many casualties among minority groups. The police, desperate to contain matters, extend their own investigation across country, but the murder of Powell is still treated as a local affair, and so much of the plot falls on the shoulders of small-town Chief Inspector Taylor, who quietly pursues his leads with due diligence. Monckton by contrast cracks down with curfews, mass arrests, and eventual false flag terror tactics to consolidate his power and position. His dragnet starts out with foreigners, naturalised or otherwise, then expands to take in leftists, hippies, undesirables, and then just about anyone. In the end the entire nation is suspect because it harbours so suspicious a thing as grief.

Who Killed Enoch Powell? is a hybrid affair: part political thriller, part routine thick-ear, with a smattering of detective work thrown in to make it respectable. Wise has a habit of withholding a little too much information from the reader and for too long, resulting in an often frustrating read. However, conducting the text on a need-to-know basis is in keeping with the operation that is eventually mounted to remove Monckton from power. It falls to Taylor, an ordinary policeman, to infiltrate a military HQ and take Monckton, dead or alive. His passage is such that it is clear the operation is proceeding with no questions asked by officers, policemen and highly placed militia. Only Monckton's personal bodyguards appear to be out of the loop, a fact that seems to render them singularly incompetent. In this case the author is playing on espionage tropes; having elevated Taylor from ordinary policeman to secret agent, he then acquires Bondian skills of tradecraft, as though establishment sanction bestows superpowers. It's an amusing if rather suspect tactic, but it offers the author all the plausible deniability he needs to wrap matters up nicely.

Slow-burning to begin with, Wise builds a fair head of steam, primarily through some excellent descriptions of public disorder, and the book ends before the plotting begins to unravel. Ultimately, a beckoning strange one.

No comments:

Post a Comment