By Linda E. Minton

Independently Published


249pp/$14.99/July 2019

The Harlaxton Heist

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Set during the second World War, Linda E. Minton's The Harlaxton Heist offers an espionage mystery that sees a young woman from small-town Tennessee becoming a cook at a military base outside of London who finds herself embroiled in what may be a Nazi plot when she finds a strange bag among her possessions and is given a coded note. The novel has the feel of a Nancy Drew mystery as Agnes Taylor tries to unravel the clues that come her way.

Although the novel doesn't identify itself as a young adult novel, it certainly has the feel of one, even if Minton's protagonist is in her mid-twenties. Agnes Taylor has never been outside Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee before she enlisted and was sent to Florida for training. Making quick friends with Vera Slaton and Emily Smith in training, Agnes and Emily find themselves assigned to High Wyecombe to run the airfield's mess hall with a couple of British women. As luck would have it, Agnes' ex-boyfriend, Cliff Ray, is serving as a mechanic at the base.

The coded message and suspicious bag lead Agnes and Cliff to reunite and play detective, trying to figure out what the code means and who the bag belongs to. Their investigations take them to the country manor at Harlaxton well to the north and involve them in a tale of Nazi espionage that may not only end their budding romance, but also their lives.

Agnes and Cliff, as well as the other characters, seem to have a degree of freedom of movement that seems unlikely on a military base or in a country that is at war, even if the majority of the action is happening on the other side of the English Channel. Security at both the military bases at High Wyecombe and Harlaxton seems extremely lax and none of the personnel seems to have heard the phrase “loose lips sink ships” or any of the other posters warning of possible spies. Uniformly, all of the characters approach life with a near pollyannish attitude, living in a wonderful world full of wonderful people to whom bad things never happen, even when attempts are made on their lives or their comrades are in plane crashes.

The characters are also repetitive, often making the same statements to each other, although it is unclear if it is for their own edification or to remind the reader what was stated in the previous chapter. There are also several pieces of dialogue that serve as data dumps, the characters sharing information that the other characters would already have in an attempt to provide that information to the reader. The novel also switches viewpoint characters with some frequency, often multiple time on the same page, providing insight into the thoughts of Agnes, Cliff, and Emily as they speak to each other. The occasionally missing quotation marks mean that it isn't always easy to tell who is having internal thoughts, but since the characters almost always restate the name of the person they are talking to, tracking who is actually speaking is relatively easy.

Approached as a book aimed at a juvenile or young adult crowd, The Harlaxton Heist works, but feels dated for a readership that has grown up with the works of Rick Riordan or Veronica Roth. The setting of England in the 1940s is fine, but the flow of the story and the eternal perkiness of the characters can get in the way of enjoying the novel.

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