The English Führer by Rory Clements: Packed with drama, action and subterfuge – book review –

When a mysterious plague rips through a small Cambridgeshire village in the autumn of 1945, fears grow that it could be a biological weapon attack by an unknown and unseen enemy.
The English Führer by Rory ClementsThe English Führer by Rory Clements
The English Führer by Rory Clements

Could it be the work of a dangerous Nazi remnant, a covert operation by agents from the Soviet Union... or could it be linked to Unit 731, the sinister Japanese biological warfare research laboratory in Manchuria?

Maverick Cambridge Professor Tom Wilde, who spent three years of the war as a spy with the Office of Strategic Services, America’s wartime intelligence agency, is rapidly learning that there is no such thing as retirement from espionage in the uncertain peace of the post-war period.

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Although the history books tell us that the Second World War ended in May 1945 in Europe and in the Far East three months later, it was not the end of fascism and many Nazi sympathisers continued to campaign for their beliefs.

Add on the dawning realisation that the Red Army’s ‘liberation’ of Eastern European countries merely meant replacing one totalitarian occupation with another, coupled with the infiltration of Britain’s secret services by high-ranking traitors like Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Anthony Blunt, and the stage was set for a new kind of warfare.

In the seventh book of his acclaimed ‘what if’ historical novels series – which has included Corpus, Nucleus, Nemesis, Hitler’s Secret, A Prince and A Spy and The Man in the Bunker – former national newspaper journalist Rory Clements sweeps us back into the life of Tom Wilde, his unconventional half-American, half-Irish history don who has braved death and danger to do his bit for peace and freedom.

And just when Tom thought the moment had arrived when he could put the war behind him and enjoy time with his wife, Lydia, and six-year-old son, Johnny, a new threat arises in a world ‘exhausted by war, desperate for peace – and extremely vulnerable.’

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In October of 1945, off the east coast of England, a Japanese submarine surfaces briefly after an epic 18,000 nautical mile journey across the Pacific and the Atlantic, unloads its mysterious cargo and then blows itself to pieces, duty done.

Meanwhile, former spy Tom Wilde is enjoying peacetime in Cambridge, settling back into teaching and family life... until a call from senior MI5 boss, Lord ‘Dagger’ Templeman, brings him abruptly out of retirement. As Tom’s wife Lydia warns him, ‘the war might be over for everyone else, but not for Professor Wilde.’

It seems the nearby village of Flowthorpe has been locked down by the military, its residents suddenly blighted by a deadly plague-like illness. No one is allowed in or out and there are rumours that the Nazi machine is still operational, with links to Unit 731, the notorious Japanese biological warfare research laboratory which carried out human experiments of barbaric depravity. But how could they possibly be plotting on British soil... and why?

What’s more, an addendum to the Gestapo’s infamous Black Book, containing the names of people to be singled out for ‘instant death’ if the Nazis invaded Britain, includes the names of Templeman, and both Tom and Lydia Wilde. And after the murder of two of the men on the list, and the disappearance of another, an unthinkable question emerges... could an English Führer be behind the plot?

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Cool-hand academic Tom has to be one of historical fiction’s most charismatic adventurers… as intrepid as he is intellectually gifted, the unorthodox, US-born professor has acquired an engaging insouciance and British stiff upper lip stoicism which stand him in good stead as he encounters an enemy as ruthless as those he tracked down during the war years.

And buckle yourself in tightly because this is one of Clements’ best outings yet as we join Tom on a gripping, action-packed chase across Britain for a twisting, turning adventure that paints a rich portrait of the challenges facing post-war Britain, and delivers all the chills and breathless thrills of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps.

As always, Tom must use both his brains and his brawn to outsmart lethal villains, escape the forces of the law who are also on his trail, and negotiate a path through a tangled web of dark secrets, hidden treachery and a deadly plan that could wipe out whole populations.

Packed with drama, action and subterfuge, and with a hero spy who always manages to keep his humanity in the face of others’ inhumanity, The English Führer is fact and fiction, history and mystery at its heart-thumping, page-turning best.

(Zaffre, hardback, £16.99)

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