The Blurb On The Back:
1936. Europe is in turmoil. The Nazis have marched into the Rhineland; in Russia, Stalin has unleashed his Great Terror; Spain has erupted in civil war.
In Berlin, a young Englishwoman evades the Gestapo to deliver vital papers to a Jewish scientist. Within weeks she is found dead in her Cambridge bedroom, a silver syringe clutched in her fingers.
When a renowned member of the county set and his wife are found horribly murdered, a maverick history professor finds himself dragged into a world of espionage which, until now, he has only read about in books. But the deeper Thomas Wilde delves, the more he wonders whether the murders are linked to the death of the girl with the silver syringe – and, just as worryingly, to the scandal surrounding King Edward VII and his mistress Wallis Simpson …
Professor Wilde’s specialist subject is the Elizabethan secret service. As the scope of the conspiracy is revealed, he must use all the skills he has learnt to save the woman he loves and prevent a massacre.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
In August 1936, Nancy Hereward (a journalist and Communist sympathiser) travels to Berlin to conduct a secret mission. Two months later, Nancy is found dead in her Cambridge flat. The silver syringe in her arm convinces the police that it’s an accidental heroin overdose but Nancy’s friend, Lydia Morris, knows that Nancy was up to something in Berlin and is convinced that something more nefarious has happened. She convinces her neighbour, Thomas Wilde (a Cambridge history professor whose specialism is Elizabethan espionage) to help her investigate and it’s not long before they discover that Nancy’s death coincided with the brutal murder of the parents of a college friend of Nancy and Lydia’s.
Together Wilde and Lydia find themselves delving into the world of Communist activism and Fascist sympathisers set against the backdrop of the Abdication Crisis and the Spanish Civil War where everyone has an agenda and nothing is quite what it seems …
Rory Clements’s historical spy thriller (the first in a new series) sets a twisting plot against the real historical events of 1936 but is let down by a bland hero, a finale that devolves into preposterous cliché and a predictable romance between two leads who don’t have much chemistry. I enjoyed the way Clements makes use of the Spanish Civil War and the Abdication Crisis for his plot – especially the way the Crisis was kept secret in the UK press but was well discussed around the rest of the world. The scenes from Baldwin’s perspective were particularly good (although I could have done without the ‘mysterious shadowy cabal’ scenes, which felt derivative and heavy handed) and the links to the Civil War with their proxy elements neatly dovetail in with the plot. Although I enjoyed the way the characters (including Wilde) all hark back to the Great War, I found Wilde a bit bland and predictable (his American-Irish heritage trying too hard to make him an outsider) and his boxing expertise tried too hard to make him an action hero. I didn’t think he had any chemistry with Lydia (who I wish more had been made more of given her university education rather than making her traditional hostage fodder) and the finale was just so ridiculous that it spoilt my enjoyment of the previous pages. On that basis, I wouldn’t rush to read the sequel to this but I would read Clements’s other work.
CORPUS was released in the United Kingdom on 26th January 2017. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.