A Shot in the Arm is a curiously structured tale of murder, set against the backdrop of the second decade of what we would now consider an institution, the British Broadcasting Corporation. Sherwood paints this early BBC, under the leadership of Sir John – later Lord – Reith, as an organization already locked in opposition with some of the many London newspapers, fighting to survive. In fact, some of the modern critiques of the Beeb, i.e.; that it is left-leaning and morally and politically suspect, seem to have their roots around the time of this story of 1937.
The story begins with the attempted murder of Chatham, a BBC producer on the outs with his wife, from whom a divorce will cost him his job at the BBC, which at this time adhere’s to Reith’s strictly moralistic code. He is also at odds with Warren, a departmental colleague. The attempt on Chatham’s life seems to have been the work of Irish reactionaries. Can it be so?
Of course, all is not as it seems. The tale quickly shows its stripes with convoluted murders, crooked police officers, and a secret buried in the ashes of the Spanish Civil War. But setting such a book in such a well-known institution has its drawbacks. It is fascinating for its backdrop of the Corporation in its early years, with the shadow of Reith looming large over the proceedings, at a time when the continuance of publicly-funded broadcasting in Great Britain was by no means assured. On reaching the end of A Shot in the Arm I still wasn’t certain of what to think of the book’s overall success. I’ll have to read another of Sherwood’s books now to determine if the tale was really as slipshod as it felt, or if it was cleverer than I noticed. Read it yourself and see! Three and a half stars.
Originally reviewed 4 April 2014.
Find your copy of A Shot in the Arm at AbeBooks.com.