Adam Southey is a schoolmaster at Rockingham School in England. It’s 1942, the middle of WWII, but Adam isn’t in the Army or Navy because he’s lame. His disability means he can’t join up & so, he finds himself teaching French & German to schoolboys who will, all too soon, be off to fight. Adam’s old Headmaster, Dr Cooke, had offered him the job, & although he was glad to accept the position, he is resentful of the inactive role he’s forced to play. The holidays have just begun & Adam is planning to spend six weeks in Wales. However, that’s all about to change.
One night, Adam sees Dr Cooke making his way to the Science block, as he does every night to work on his experiments. A shadowy figure is following Cooke & Adam decides to investigate. The intruder is frightened off & Dr Cooke takes Adam into his confidence about his secret work. He has developed a laser ray that can hit aircraft at a great height & set them on fire. The military applications are obvious & the military chiefs are eager to see a full-scale working model. The ray is in the final testing stages & Dr Cooke is about to take the equipment & the plans to Scotland where a colleague, Mr Brownlee, will produce the full-size model at his engineering works. Adam agrees to go along but it’s not long before he realises that there are other people interested in the ray & they will stop at nothing to get hold of the plans.
Adam & Dr Cooke arrive at Mr Brownlee’s works but there are suspicions that some of the workmen have been bribed for information. They decide to take the full-scale model to Brownlee’s country estate, Lurg, as soon as it’s ready. The demonstration for the military chiefs will take place there. The journey to Lurg is eventful, as Adam & Ford, the overseer, become increasingly suspicious of the other two men, the driver Berwick & Dow, another workman. However, even kidnapping, a bump on the head & a tree across the road can’t stop Adam & Ford for long & they arrive safely at Lurg.
At Lurg, Adam meets Mr Brownlee’s daughter, Evelyn, & he’s dazzled by her beauty & her friendly charm. He soon becomes a useful addition to the staff working on the ray, even though he can only do unskilled work. Adam also meets one of the neighbours, Mr Taylor, an Englishman who lives in a castle on the Tinal River. Mr Taylor is hospitable & invites Adam to dinner, where he meets Mr Taylor’s niece, Brenda, a quiet girl who, according to her uncle, is mentally fragile & had to leave London because she was afraid of the bombing. However, there’s more to Mr Taylor than Adam realises &, as he gets to know Brenda, he discovers that his new friend may have more sinister motives for his actions.
This is where the espionage thread becomes crucial to the plot so I can’t really say much more. Adam & Brenda fall in love & they are both in danger as they try to foil the enemy’s plans to steal the blueprints of the ray. Adam ends up living in a cave on the moors, assisted by Mr Ford’s brother, Ebby. Adam’s disability is no barrier as he leads two villains on a chase over the moors & captures one of them. He scales the cliffs outside Tinal Castle &, although the effort exhausts him, he succeeds. I couldn’t help feeling that D E Stevenson had needed Adam to be disabled as a reason why he wasn’t in the Forces but then, forgot about it when she needed him to be an action hero! Not that it matters as the story is exciting & full of real tension as the moment approaches when the enemy will try to steal the ray & Adam has to stop them.
As always in D E Stevenson’s novels, the scenery is beautifully described. Scotland plays a central role, as it so often does. I loved the descriptions of the moors & the details of the walks Adam takes & his fishing & the domestic arrangements of his cave. If there could be such a thing as a domestic spy story, then I can’t think of a better author than D E Stevenson to write it. The minor characters are also wonderful, from the Ford brothers to Dick Brownlee, Mr Brownlee’s nephew, a crack pilot, who works for his uncle as a test pilot for his inventions. Adam himself is a very appealing character. More thoughtful than the usual action hero, he’s rather like John Buchan’s Richard Hannay but without the stiff upper lip & with a very real vulnerability. Crooked Adam is an involving novel that isn’t as far removed from D E Stevenson’s usual subject matter as you might suppose. There’s even a little home renovation as Adam & Ebby make the cave habitable & cook some delicious meals. I enjoyed it very much.