This book could have been written now with the emphasis on suicide bombers and the debate about the importance of instilling terror in a population. Once past the scene setting this starts to open up as a novel that has a great deal of depth. Conrad is standing back showing not just the philosophy and actions of the anarchists but also the Police who are struggling to understand them.
The case for bombing is explained, with it being a chance to shatter complacency and in the case of the suicide bomber show the power and commitment of an individual. But there is also the misery of being able to only threaten people with a bomb in the pocket – the case of the shady explosives supplier The Professor.
Although it is far from comic there is a certain humour about how inept both sides are and even the superintendent refers to it as a game which both sides will play to a set of rules that both appear to operate to.
On a personal note, with Greenwich just down the road, it is odd to be reading about stations and locations I know reasonably well with the bombers coming off the train at Maze Hill before one of them stumbles over the roots of a tree in the park and blows himself to pieces.
The assumption is that Veloc has died because he was the one who asked for the explosives but that is never clearly stated and as the story develops you suspect someone else has been the victim of the bomb in a tin. The address leads them back to Veloc’s shop but before anyone gets there there are suspicions among the police about which anarchists might have been responsible.
There is a message that resonates here about the naivety by the police and some of the anarchists about just how far some people are prepared to go. The difference between someone who shouts about something but never does it and someone prepared to blow themselves up is a psychological one that exists today.