Book review: The Dagger and the Flame by Malcolm Saville

The Dagger and the Flame by Malcolm Saville

I loved Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine series when I was growing up. For the child of immigrants growing up in London, it opened up vistas on an England that I would never have known otherwise: Romney Marsh, the Yorkshire Moors and, most especially, the vast ridge of the Long Mynd and the sharp teeth of the Stiperstones in Shropshire. These became the landscapes of my imagination, grounding me in this country which wasn’t, quite, mine, but making it so.

So it was with some excitement that I learned Saville had written another series, intended for somewhat older readers, featuring British secret agent, Marston Baines. My wife kindly bought me The Dagger and the Flame, now reprinted by Girls Gone By, and I settled down to read it. Unlike the Lone Pine books, it’s set in Italy and, since I’m half Italian, this was actually a point in its favour.

Sadly, the story itself is a disappointment. Although I probably share most of Saville’s views, his dismay at the 1960s counterculture spills over into preaching – never good even when I agree with the views being preached – and Marston Baines barely even appears himself, the spy work being done by his nephew, Simon. There’s the bones of a good story there, but Saville was writing to make a point rather than tell a story, and the story suffers. Not one I will revisit.


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