Review: THE DIPLOMAT’S WIFE by Michael Ridpath

Well, recently I reviewed the first of Michael Ridpath’s books, and it’s only natural that I should follow it up with the latest of his books: THE DIPLOMAT’S WIFE.

Disclosure – I know Michael quite well, and have enjoyed several glasses of wine with him at crime writer gatherings over the years. In fact, that is why he kindly sent me a copy of this book. Some months ago, he contacted me to ask whether I would mind having my name in his book. I’ve been told that I’ve been put into several other books over the years, by Quintin Jardine and others, but each time it’s been on the entirely reasonable basis that I have been put in as an author the hero or heroine has been reading. Which is fair enough. 

However, Michael Ridpath has a twisted sense of humour. He preferred to see me as a jaded, ancient retainer in his book – I’m the butler. Hurtful.

So, what is this book about?

Ridpath started out as the writer of high-octane thrillers set in the rarified world of finance and the City of London, stories about corrupt bond dealers, money brokers and the like. But over time he has tried his hand very successfully at a number of other ventures, from looking at Scandi-noir style stories to, more recently, recent-past tales. THE DIPLOMAT’S WIFE falls into the second category. 

This story tells of the life of Emma, daughter of Lord Chaddington, who was to become Lady Meeke. But we begin with Phil Dewar, her grandson. It is 1979, and Phil was due to leave England for a trip across Europe with his best friend, a plan that they had developed over their A-Levels before they were to go to university (if they passed well enough). But then Phil had a crash in his father’s car, and the insurance excess was enough to drain all his savings – the trip was off. Until …

His grandmother had been a diplomat’s wife in the 1930s, and she told Phil and his parents that she had a real hankering to travel back through the countries where she had lived in her early married life. But she had been stopped for a speeding offence, and was about to lose her driving licence for a year. So could Phil, perhaps, join her as chauffeur and companion?

So, for Phil, the promise of a break and adventure with his grandmother is soon agreed. Admittedly, it’s not the journey of a lifetime, hitchhiking across Europe with his mate, meeting girls, chatting them up, drinking too much – and yet his grandma is a good old girl, fun and occasionally shocking. 

But before he goes, he’s invited to meet with his old French teacher, who introduces him to a Mr Swann, and suddenly the whole trip takes on a more serious nature. 

One of Ridpath’s skills is to take the reader on a journey back and forth over time, but always logically, dropping clues where relevant, and never clumsily. The reader is fully engaged with the cast of characters, the people whom Emma used to know in the terrible days before the Second World War, the people who appear to want to prevent her road trip from reaching its conclusion, whatever and wherever that might be. You want to find out what she had been doing, what her husband was up to, how the German diplomats, the French artistic groups – and Emma’s mother – all became entangled. 

Ridpath is a master of characterisation, coherence and clarity. His writing is subtle and witty, but always direct and forceful. His works are always packed with twisted plots and just one more little secret that will turn everything on its head, but at their heart is a deep humanity.

Need I say that this is another Highly Recommended?

One Response to “Review: THE DIPLOMAT’S WIFE by Michael Ridpath”
  1. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    Another review…


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