After my little e-reader hiccup, I’m glad to say I’ve been able to get back to reading Ann Bridge’s series of novels about Julia Probyn. The Dangerous Islands is set in Scotland, Ireland & the Scilly Isles & involves sailing, espionage & romance in equal measure.
Julia is at Glentoran, visiting her cousins the Munros. On a sailing trip around the Hebrides, Julia & Colin Munro discover a suspicious installation on a remote island. They suspect it’s a radio transmitter, planted by the Russians to transmit satellite positions & other information to Moscow. This is 1963, so the Cold War is raging, & Colin’s job in the Secret Service means that he needs to pass the information on & have it investigated. Philip Jamieson is dispatched from London to investigate. Jamieson, with help from Julia, is able to locate several more transmitters on remote islands. They also keep running into three Russians pretending to be Scandinavians on a trawler that has no legitimate reason to be there. Jamieson disables the transmitters & the search for more leads them to Ireland & the Scilly Isles.
Julia’s friend, Mary Hutchinson, is concerned about her old friend Professor Burbage. The Professor has been acting suspiciously & his archaeological excavations seem to be taking place very close to the locations of the transmitters. He seems nervous when Julia meets him & his reputation is already under a cloud because he’s suspected of helping the Russians when he worked in the Middle East. Julia’s affection for the Professor makes her very protective of him & Jamieson’s determination to do his job regardless of personal feelings complicates their personal relationship, especially when it becomes obvious that he’s falling in love with Julia. Julia’s feelings about him are equally romantic until she hears a rumour about his personal life that disconcerts her. The climax of the story on the Scillys is exciting & tragic but, as with all good adventure stories, right prevails & the good guys (mostly) live to fight another day.
The Dangerous Islands is another rollicking adventure for Julia & her friends. I’ve always loved reading about Scotland & the first section of the book involving the sailing trip around the Hebrides, is very exciting. I know it’s a product of the period when the book was written but Julia’s cousin, Edina, now married to Philip Reeder who we met in the first book, A Lighthearted Quest, spends a lot of time on the boat cooking & cleaning. Julia does much more in the way of sailing & exploring. When you think that Edina was practically running Glentoran single-handed in the first book, I was a bit annoyed to see her so diminished by marriage into a galley slave! It reminded me of the Famous Five – George the tomboy out there with the boys & Anne already in training as a good wife & mother. This kind of domestic stereotyping doesn’t usually bother me as I read a lot of books of this period & earlier but I thought it was very marked here. Maybe I haven’t read enough thrillers.
Julia herself is still a very attractive character. I enjoy the fact that she’s independently wealthy & can just race off at a moment’s notice on a trip to Ireland where naturally she has friends with a beautiful estate. She ingratiates herself with the locals wherever she goes & even when she visits the Scillies for the first time, has no trouble in finding out any necessary information. She’s a natural intriguer & spy, if the Secret Service ever decide to employ her officially, instead of being content with her unofficial help. For all Julia’s outward confidence, she hasn’t been particularly successful in her romantic relationships so far. Her relationship with Philip Jamieson seems promising but there are four more books in the series & I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to them next.
As always in this series, the locations are important. All the island settings are beautifully described, the scenery, history & local legends are a part of the story & really add to the atmosphere of a very exciting plot & a cast of characters that I’m looking forward to meeting up with again.