So strong is the legend of the so-called "Spirit of the Blitz" in Britain, that it is difficult to grow up in this country imagining any other than our wartime forebears living a life of stoical, heroic resistance to Hitler, by growing carrots on allotments, setting up sea defences in Kent and cheerfully offering cups of tea to neighbours made homeless by doodlebugs.
And so it comes as a bit of a shock when you realise that life - in all its multi-coloured glory and hydra-headed ugliness - continued much as normal. People merely committed their crimes and conducted their affairs behind black-out curtains and fueled by a poorer-than-usual diet.
It is rich territory for a crime writer, of course. The demands, subterfuges and opportunities of the war represent a thick, smoggy atmospheric layer to cast across the criminal tableau. But it takes a good writer to exploit that fully and to ensure that a compelling, page-turning plot can stand out from the fascinating backdrop.
And Laura Wilson manages it with great aplomb. Aside from seeing her on stage during one of the events at last year's Harrogate crime festival, I had not come across Laura Wilson before until a copy of Stratton's War, a mystery set in London in 1940, dropped on the doormat a few weeks ago. And so finding a writer as good as this on is reassuring. It is good to know that for all the dozens of writers whose work I have sampled and enjoyed there is more treasure out there awaiting discovery.
There is a lot to admire in Stratton's War, the story of Metropolitan Police detective Ted Stratton whose instincts lead him to investigate the death of a former silent movie film star Mabel Morgan, to the consternation of his superiors who have written off her death as suicide.
The more he delves into the matter the further he gets dragged into a murky world exposing wartime profiteers, spies and counter-espionage agencies, class division, family feuding the right-wing politics of appeasement and 1940s attitudes to homosexuality and its practitioners. And as he does so the Blitz begins, raining fire and misery down on the Capital, and disrupting both his personal and professional life.
Any one of these themes might be sufficient to sustain a novel, any combination of two or more enough to overcomplicate a story and lose the reader. So full marks to Wilson for seamlessly weaving together so many strands and make a much stronger fabric for their presence.
As I have remarked before about historical novels, I do not believe it is necessary (although it is desirable) for a narrative to accurately recreate an era, few readers have the insight needed to know whether the details are totally authentic and the atmosphere faithfully reproduced. What is essential, however, is that the recreation feels authentic.
Stratton's War is brilliant in this regard. The crushing weight of worry about the immediate future - invasion, defeat, annihilation? - permeates the entire story. The hardships are war are also brought home hard for our pampered generation: the shortages of essential foodstuffs, the heartache of child evacuation, the desperation of life lived under the permanent shadow of threat of imminent death.
In this Stratton's interaction with his wife Jenny is critical. Stratton worries finding a murderer, protecting innocent people, getting on with the job. Jenny worries about her children, who have been evacuated to Suffolk, the bombers overhead, how to get by on a limited ration book. Their relationship and its tensions are beautifully told, and give the entire work a strong anchor in wartime reality.
And Stratton himself is a marvellous creation. An earthy son of the West Country, he is honest, brave and loyal, but also subject to the grand range of emotion that make us all human and fallible.
Other characters also contribute a great deal. Diana Calthorp, the naive bride who enters public service to find a little adventure and gets a lot more than she bargained for. Colonel Forbes-James and Sir Neville Apse, the upper class civil servant spies who conduct their business and personal affairs asif they were no more than an extension of games played at Eton or Oxford.
The sum of the parts is a wonderfully gripping, atmospheric triumph of a novel. Bravo!