David Roberts' indomitable mismatched couple, Lord Edward Corinth and Verity Browne, are plunged into an adventure surrounding some letters stolen from the notorious Wallis Simpson, mistress of King Edward VIII. Taken as a light-hearted romp, this plays well, with the requisite country houses, hot and cold running butlers, jolly jaunts on motorbikes through the countryside, cozy artists' flats in darkest bohemian Chelsea, shopping sprees at Harrods, and the like.
Where the author goes slightly astray is in the insistent polemics about Fascism and Communism inserted throughout. It's true that these were important political questions of the day, and serve as background to the story. The Jarrow March is an interesting backdrop, not strictly relevant to the story but a dimension seemingly brought in to highlight the differences in character between the two leads. But the class-and-politics verbal battles between Verity and Lord Edward are starting to ring false - it's obvious to all that these characters are simply filling space by fighting their mutual attraction, and the political points of their differences seem at best irrelevant. I found myself growing impatient with Lord Edward's constant kowtowing and apologizing to the self-important Verity. She is insistently impolite to him, berating him for things he cannot help, like the class he was born into, she belittles him at every turn, and her wildly inflated ego makes her appear to think she is running the press for the entire Spanish Civil War at the age of 26.
There's also a bit of fast and loose played with history. How likely is it that King Edward VIII, deeply in love with Mrs Simpson, in the last weeks before the Abdication, should have taken an additional mistress, made her pregnant, and written passionate love letters to her? Not very.
Readers of this period in British social history will recognize Lord Edward Corinth's nephew Frank, who is clearly modelled on Esmond Romilly, husband of Decca Mitford. Romilly, a schoolboy Communist agitator at Wellington and the nephew of Winston Churchill, wrote a very popular "underground" newssheet called Out Of Bounds before running away to the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. Here in Hollow Crown, Frank the Communist agitator at Eton and the son of a duke, prints the underground newssheet Beyond Bounds, before running away to the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. Hmmmmmmm...
Of course, if you don't mind any of this or think it adds to the fun, then do read and enjoy this book. But note to the author -- please, less shrill polemic from Verity, who is an almost entirely unsympathetic heroine, and more steel in the spine of Lord Edward, who is worth twenty of her.