Princes Gate, Mark Ellis.

Matador £7.99

There is little to beat the anticipation of opening a new book by a brand new author. Embarking into the unknown is a genuine voyage of discovery – topped only when you reach the final page and know that it was a good choice.

Reading the first in what I certainly hope will be a series of detective novels set in the relatively undocumented first couple of the years of the Second World War and against a backdrop of barrage balloons and impending blitz, Princes Gate introduces the world to the wonderful Detective Chief Inspector Frank Merlin.

Frank is half Spanish and recently widowed, so just flawed enough to be interesting without his personal demons ever overwhelming a thumping great plot that brings the claustrophobic world of the blackout and the banality of everyday lives being lived against a background of extraordinary circumstances so vividly to life it’s tangible.

The story ebbs and flows in and around the American embassy at a time when Ambassador Joseph Kennedy was preaching appeasement with Hitler and battling for the US to stay out of the war. This rarefied political world is sharply contrasted with the seedy clip joints and lowlife gang operations that all contribute to a wholly believable and entertaining story that rattles along at a cracking pace.

Merlin is a genuine hero, and all-round good bloke. A knight in shining armour in this increasingly murky world where lives are lived in the moment for the future is too uncertain to contemplate.

If you like your detective fiction to be packed with heart, with real people set against a meticulously researched historical background – and are not looking for a story that feels like you’ve read it a hundred times before, with just the names and places changed, then Princes Gate is well worth a punt. A traditional well-plotted whodunit with a protagonist you will believe in and a plot that’s fresh and satisfying. A real treat.