Written by Robert Goddard — James ‘Max’ Maxsted is a former RAF pilot who had successfully battled the Germans in the skies above the Western Front. In the first book in this trilogy, The Ways of the World, Maxsted traded the RAF for the intrigue of 1919 Paris, where he tried to find out the truth behind his father’s apparent suicide, while becoming involved with spies and diplomats of all the former warring nations. Now, as the peace process is proving almost as complex as the war, he is recruited to infiltrate a German spy ring which, despite the armistice, is as active as ever.
He’s been asked by the Secret Service to pose as a member of the spy network controlled by the German Fritz Lemmer – the only one of the Kaiser’s commanders ‘still in the field’. Maxsted must travel to Scapa Flow, where the German fleet is anchored. His brief is to collect a file containing the names of all Lemmer’s agents. He is beset by treachery and double-dealing at every turn, and eventually finds himself back in Paris, helped by his former batman, Sam Twentyman, and the tough but good-hearted American investigator, Schools Morahan.
The true circumstances of Maxsted’s father’s death still elude him, and although the shadow of Fritz Lemmer is cast over proceedings, the main villains of this particular piece are a group of Japanese conspirators, led by the sinister Count Tomura. Maxsted knows that key to his own personal search for answers lies in identifying the mystery man, Farngold, and learning how he connects to the Japanese diplomats – and to Max’s own family.
The Corners of the Globe exposes one of the problems faced by writers of character-based series – how to involve new readers while allowing the protagonist to have a meaningful back-story. Goddard uses a lengthy internal memorandum from one Whitehall mandarin to another, explaining everything that happened to Max in the previous book. As it happens, I had read and enjoyed the first book, but it was useful to be reminded of earlier events. The writing is effortlessly and gloriously earnest. It is not consciously a pastiche of such adventures as Biggles, Richard Hannay or Bulldog Drummond, nor do we know if Maxsted has a steely glint in his blue eyes, or a determined lantern jaw, but he has all the qualities of those heroic figures. He enjoys a drink and a fag and sees the world in fairly simple terms. He lives a life where his view of risk has been shaped by his hours flying a string-bag aircraft above the trenches of France and Flanders.
After a tantalising reappearance of Corinne Dombreux, who provided the romantic interest in The Ways Of The World, this book ends with a finger on the trigger of a gun being pointed at our hero’s head. We are left in suspense as to whether the next sound is a bang or a click. This kind of ending works brilliantly in a three part TV mini-series, or an Edwardian weekly magazine serialisation, but I wonder if the device is as successful with months to wait until the final part of the trilogy is published? However, if you can keep track of the growing numbers of characters, and remember whose side they are on, and work out whether double bluffs are actually double-double bluffs, then you will enjoy this good old fashioned adventure story.
CFL Rating: 4 stars