The White Feather Killer

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 Jul 2019

Member Reviews

I’m a great fan of historical crime fiction, particularly if it is set in the 19th or 20th centuries, but I will be the first to admit that most such novels tend not to veer towards what I call The Dark Side. Perhaps it’s the necessary wealth of period detail which gets in the way, and while some writers revel in the more lurid aspects of poverty, punishment and general mortality, the genre is usually a long way from noir. That’s absolutely fine. Many noir enthusiasts (noiristes, perhaps?) avoid historical crime in the same way that lovers of a good period yarn aren’t drawn to existential world of shadows cast by flickering neon signs on wet pavements. The latest novel from RN Morris, The White Feather Killer is an exception to my sweeping generalisation, as it is as uncomfortable and haunting a tale as I have read for some time.

If Morris were to have a specialised subject on Mastermind, it might well be London Crime In 1914, as the previous books in the DI Silas Quinn series,  Summon Up The Blood (2012), Mannequin House (2013), Dark Palace (2014) and The Red Hand Of Fury (2018) are all set in that fateful year. Silas Quinn, like many of the best fictional coppers, is something of an oddball. While not completely misanthropic, he prefers his own company; his personal family life is tainted with tragedy; he favours the cerebral, evidence-based approach to solving crimes rather than the knuckle-duster world of forced confessions favoured by his Scotland Yard colleagues.

London - like the rest of Britain in the late summer of 1914 – is convulsed with a mixture of outrage, mad optimism and a sense of the old world being overturned. There is the glaring paradox of the first BEF casualties from Mons and Le Cateau being smuggled into the capital’s hospitals on bloodstained stretchers while, the length and breadth of the city, young men are jostling and queuing around the block in a testosterone fuelled display of patriotism, with their only anxiety being the worry that it will all be over before they can ‘do their bit’.

Morris takes his time before giving us a dead body, but his drama has some intriguing characters. We met Felix Simpkins, such a mother’s boy that, were he to be realised on the screen, we would have to resurrect Anthony Perkins for the job. His mother is not embalmed in the apple cellar, but an embittered and waspish German widow, a failed concert pianist, a failed wife, and a failed pretty much everything else except in the dubious skill of humiliating her hapless son. Central to the grim narrative is the Cardew family. Baptist Pastor Clement Cardew is the head of the family; his wife Esme knows her place, but his twin children Adam and Eve have a pivotal role in what unfolds. The trope of the hypocritical and venal clergyman is well-worn but still powerful; when we realise the depth of Cardew’s dscent into darkness, it is truly chilling.

Historical novels come and go, and all too many are over-reliant on competent research and authentic period detail, but Morris plays his ace with his brilliant and evocative use of language. Here, Quinn watches, bemused, as a company of army cyclists spin past him:

“The whole thing had the air of an outing. It did not seem like men preparing for war. The soldiers on their bicycles struck Quinn as unspeakably vulnerable. Their jauntiness as they sped along had a hollow ring to it, as if each man knew he was heading towards death but had sworn not to tell his fellows.”

Quinn has to pursue his enquiries in one of the quieter London suburbs, and makes this wry observation of the world of Mr Pooter – quaintly comic, but about to be shattered by events:

“Elsewhere, in the bigger, flashier houses, the rich and servanted classes might indulge in their racy pastimes and let their jealous passions run wild. Here the worst that could be imagined of one’s neighbours was the coveting of another man’s gardenias, or perhaps going hatless on a Sunday afternoon.”

The White Feather Killer is published by Severn House, and is available now. Let Morris have the last word, though, and he takes us back to that autumn when, after those heady weeks when everything seemed possible, innocence finally died.

“The world had suddenly become a dangerous and uncertain place. A drastic shift in perspective had brought Death into the foreground; the dim figure on the horizon, drifting in and out of sight, had become an insistent, looming presence, so close its stinking, clammy breath could be felt on the back of the neck.”
Was this review helpful?
Hi Karen,

My Next review is:-

“The White Feather Killer( A Silas Quinn Mystery)””, written by R N Morris and published in Hardback by  Severn House Publishers. 288 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0727888853

This was an exciting, atmospheric and deftly plotted police procedural set in and around London in the early days of the Great War.
London, 1914. The declaration of war with Germany has made the capital a dark, uncertain place, rife with fear and suspicion. As the pressure on young men to enlist grows stronger, Pastor Cardew holds a rally at his church. Unfortunately, it ends in humiliation for Felix Simpkins when he receives a dreaded white feather - the ultimate sign of cowardice. Meanwhile, DI Silas Quinn returns to New Scotland Yard after his recent sick leave to find the Special Crimes Department has been closed and his team absorbed into CID. But when a body is discovered in Wormwood Scrubs the day after Cardew's rally, a white feather placed in its mouth, Quinn finds himself unable to take a back seat in the investigation. Was the murderer really a foreign spy . . . or someone closer to home?
I really loved reading this new book by the author as I last time that I read his work was in “The Dark Palace” in January 2014 and had forgotten how well he writes and the general high quality of his work I feel that I must read more of his previous books.Strongly recommended.

Best wishes,

Terry
(To be published on eurocrime .co.uk)
Was this review helpful?
It 1914 England has declared war against Germany. The country is in an uproar as men rush to join the arm forces. Anyone with any ties with Germany is considered a spy. Women are giving men not in uniform a white feather, the symbol of cowardice to encourage them to join the arm forces. I have not read this book before and is it the fifth book in Silas Quinn series. Will read this author again. He has a number of series.
DI Silas Quinn returns to New Scotland Yard after his recent sick leave to the Special Crimes Department. His enemies have gain control and his unit has been closed, the men placed throughout Scotland Yard. Silas' job is to oversee what the detectives are doing. It is a meanless job. His first case is to locate a missing young girl. He finds the girl MURDERED and one of his men is shot while on duty. The secrets of the residents are unraveling as the war shows no sign of an end. 

Disclosure: Thanks to Severn House for a copy through NetGalley. The opinions expressed are my own.
Was this review helpful?
This is my first foray into reading R. N. Morris but I can assure you it won’t be my last. Although this is the fifth in the Silas Quinn Mystery series, it works beautifully as a stand alone book. In this book, Quinn finds himself in a somewhat awkward situation as the Special Crimes unit, which he headed up, has been closed down. This leaves him with no team and at the beck and call of a rather unpleasant colleague. This being World War 1, all those not joining up are handed white feathers, the universal sign for cowardice. When a young woman is murdered, with a white feather found in her mouth, the police are quick to arrest someone. However, Quinn feels the white feather is significant and continues the investigation. 

Morris is an outstanding writer and this character driven narrative is superb. Quinn is a well rounded character with a burning desire to see justice done, often to his own detriment. The plot is gripping. Just when you think everything is worked out another corner is turned and off it goes again. I truly loved this book and I am off to buy another in the series. If you like authentic, character driven, historical suspense, I would say this book is a must buy. 

This review has also been posted on Goodreads, Amazon UK and my personal blog.
Was this review helpful?
The White Feather Killer does a fantastic job of combining historical fiction with a classic crime thriller.  It closely follows the historical facts of WWI in Europe while following a realistic crime investigation in Scotland Yard.  You are quickly drawn into the intrigue of a grisly crime while connecting with the characters.  Morris does a fantastic job of stringing you along and just as you think you have things figured out the rug gets pulled out from right underneath you.
Was this review helpful?
This is the fifth Silas Quinn novel written by the author.  While much of the fleshing out of Detective Quinn was done in the previous books it will not deter the reader to come across the character as he appears here.  Quinn is picked up just after his previous assignment in which he was required to go under cover in a lunatic asylum in order to solve a case.  He arrives back at his headquarters just at the time that England has entered the first World War.  The country was in turmoil gearing up for the war with thousands of men volunteering for the army.  Quinn's previous assignment  has been changed and he is put under the supervision of another detective who is depicted as incompetent for the job.
     Making use of the plot of the book "The Four Feathers" by A.E.W. Mason Mr Morris sets up the handing out of white feathers to men not in the uniform of their country and deemed cowards during the opening period of WWI.  A young girl is found murdered and a white feather is found set into her mouth.  Quinn's new supervisor is shown to be incompetent when he arrests a butcher, innocent of the crime but having a German parent.  The man is placed in prison and subject to extremely harsh conditions until Quinn manages to get himself involved as supervisor to the case. 
     The novel becomes involved with the solving of the crime working within the turmoil of the first two months of WWI.  The description of the period shows a great deal of research with several factors built into the novel.  There is first, the use of taking fingerprints, a science only a few years old.  There is also the introduction of Vernon Kell who is credited with the founding of MI6.  Kell notes the fine detective work by Silas Quinn and will probably take a more active role in future novels featuring him.
     The writing style does not lend itself to grabbing on and finishing it in one read, but is sufficiently interesting to  make it an attractive draw and a well done portrait of detective work in a setting 100 years before our time.
Was this review helpful?
The White Feather Killer sees the return of DCI Silas Quinn in this tense mystery which opens in London at the beginning of WWI. In the patriotic fervor that follows, men rush to volunteer to fight, people see spies everywhere, and women shamed young men into enlisting by giving them white feathers. 

After a patriotic rally, Eve Cardew presents a white feather to Felix Simpkins then disappears into the crowd. She is found dead the next day, with a white feather in her mouth. In an atmosphere of fear and distrust there is a rush to blame it on foreign spies. Quinn, on the sidelines of the investigation after his recent forced leave of absence and demotion, believes there is more to it, and finds a way to investigate.

What made this an interesting read for me was the character of Quinn, who is extremely complex. Not having read any of the previous books, I knew nothing of his backstory coming into this. That was not really a problem because enough information is provided along the way to give you clues to his character and relationships. I was drawn to him and his effort to come to grips with his past (both personal and professional), and the way in which his relationships evolved over the course of the story.

Thank you to NetGalley and Severn House for the advance reader copy made available for my review.
Was this review helpful?
Sometimes you can pick up a book in the middle of the series and not feel the need to go back and start at the beginning.  However, when I began The White Feather Killer, I did feel a little lost as to the circumstances of DI Silas Quinn’s current status within the police department.  He returns to New Scotland Yard, after an undisclosed illness to the realization that the Special Crimes Division has been closed.  It is 1914 and war had been declared putting everyone’s nerves on edge.  Anyone with the slightest ties to Germany is instantly suspect.  DI Quinn is now tied to a desk, tasked with ferreting out supposed spies and enemies of Britain while his former team members have been dispersed through out the department.  Felix Simpkins wants to escape his dominant, overbearing mother and join up.  Unfortunately, he’s a coward.  He attends a special service at the church of Pastor Cardew hoping it will give him the courage to enlist. As he leaves the church, he is approached by a young woman who hands him a dreaded white feather.  The sign of cowardice.  A body is soon found with a white feather placed within the mouth of the victim and a policeman is shot during the investigation.  DI Quinn is restless and hopes that the investigation will not be botched by the current investigator who decides the murderer is of German descent and is determined to find someone who fits within his ideas.  I have read many books that take place within the same time period as The White Feather Killer.  This is the first that has really brought forth the underlying doubt and suspect that would have surfaced within Britain against the German population.  Not just those that immigrated from Germany, but the descendants of those immigrants.  He has dug down and showed many facets of prejudice and corruption within services that were put in motion to protect citizens.  As this was my first sojourn into the world of Quinn, I found him to be very human.  He doesn’t drink or depend on drugs, but he is emotional and has self-doubts.  He’s not the hard boiled, gritty investigator of many novels.  He is sure of his methods but when it comes to the fairer sex, he is shy and clumsy.  In this volume, Morris doesn’t muddy up the story with descriptive details of sex and dirty deeds.  He does give us a look at London at a time when the lives of its population were turned upside down and weren’t sure what was going to come their way the next time the sun rose.
Was this review helpful?
This is the fifth in the Silas Quinn series, following on from: Summon Up the Blood, The Mannequin House, The Dark Palace and The Red Hand of Fury.   To be honest, I don’t feel that this series has managed to be as successful as it should be – if you like interesting, character driven, historical mysteries, then this is a series you should investigate.

It is summer, 1914, and DCI Silas Quinn has returned to Scotland Yard, following his last investigation, that led, indirectly,  to the closure of the Special Crimes Unit; which Quinn used to run, along with faithful Sergeants, Inchball and Macadam.  Used to his own department, and to his independence, Quinn finds himself desk bound at CID.  To add insult to injury, he has also had to leave his comfortable lodgings, and is uncomfortably housed at a disreputable hotel.

Men are rushing to join up and those who are not immediately rallying to join the troops, find themselves in danger of receiving the white feather of cowardice.   When a young girl is murdered, after giving a man a white feather, even the police are keen for the murderer to be German.   The desire to blame the enemy is embraced by almost everybody.  Quinn, however, feels that the answer to the crime has darker, closer reasons.

This is an interesting addition to the series and I hope we won’t wait too long for the next book.  I am very fond of Quinn, and the cast of characters who surround him.   I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.
Was this review helpful?
4 stars

It is 1914 in London and Britain has declared war on Germany. Young men are joining up to serve. The white feather has become a symbol of cowardice. Thus anyone who receives a white feather is shamed and cosidered a coward. 

Felix Simpkins is a young man who this reader had a very difficult time liking or feeling any empaty with. He lives under his mother's thumb, is afraid of many things and is generally unlikeable. 

When a murder occurs, and the victim is decorated with a white feather DI Silas Quinn is assigned the case. He is rather upset with the recent reorganization of the police department that happened during his absence. 

The circumstances of the murder seem to point to the victim being a spy. This was a time in history when people were seeing spies everywhere. There was a special suspicion of German immigrants.

DI Quinn has his hands full with this case. Is the woman truly a spy, or is her murder a cover-up for something more sinister and far closer to home?

This is a well written book with an instructive slant on living in Britain in 1914. It was a difficult time in which the enemy was perhaps not as straightforward as was the second war with Germany beginning in the 1930's.

I want to thank NetGalley and Severn House/Severn House Publishers for forwarding to me a copy of this interesting book for me to read, enjoy and review.
Was this review helpful?
THE WHITE FEATHER KILLER – R. N. MORRIS
In his fifth Silas Quinn novel, Morris conjures up the atmosphere of patriotic hysteria in London in 1914. War has been declared on Germany, men are queueing to join the army, and the white feather campaign begins, aiming to prod sluggardly cowards into doing their duty. 
Even the police are viewed with suspicion. Are they using their ‘protected occupation’ to avoid the risk of dying for their country? CDI Silas Quinn, recently released from the Colney Hatch mental asylum, resumes active duty. His colleagues seem to be even worse than before he left them. The majority shirk from doing their jobs as another consequence of the war slots into place: fear of foreign spies and agitators. If anyone dies in London, a foreign agent must be guilty. German immigrants are particularly suspect…
Cleverly interweaving historical fact with incisive fiction, the origins, aims and rhetoric of the white feather movement are explored with dramatic effect when the daughter of a prominent advocate of the moment is found murdered – with a white feather in her mouth. 
The Silas Quinn series gets better with every book.
Was this review helpful?
An interesting take on the white feather theme as an alternative type of WWI story. I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to those who enjoy reading about this time in history.
Was this review helpful?