Written by Robert Goddard — This is the concluding part of a trilogy set in the immediate aftermath of World War I. James ‘Max’ Maxted is a former RAF pilot who has been searching for the truth behind the death of his diplomat father in Paris. In his quest he has become embroiled in an international espionage ring led by an elusive and bitter German called Fritz Lemmer. For Lemmer the war did not end with the Treaty of Versailles. We have reviewed both of the previous episodes, The Ways of the World (2013) and The Corners of the Globe (2014). Now, the action continues in Japan, where Maxted’s friends – Schools Morahan, Sam Twentyman and Malory Hollander – have been trailing the sinister Count Tomura, who holds the key to why Sir Henry Maxted apparently fell to his death from the balcony of a Paris apartment.
The trio fully expect to meet Max, who has been temporarily detained in France, but they are shocked to be shown a photograph of their friend lying on the floor of a Marseilles house in a pool of blood. In the photo, he has an obvious bullet hole in his head. Before they can plan what to do next they are framed for a murder in Japan. Sam and Malory escape, but Morahan is captured by the sinister secret police, the feared Kempeitai. He is tortured, but refuses to divulge his mission in Japan. After prevailing upon a friendly official, Malory manages to have Morahan released into the custody of the civil police where his life will no longer be at risk. In return Malory and Sam must leave the country by the next available ship.
It will surprise no-one to read that as they board the ship they are met by a ghost – or rather someone they feared was dead. Now, reunited with their ghost, they must attempt the near-impossible – to find Fritz Lemmer, and prise from his grasp the list of his agents who have infiltrated British and French intelligence, and then bring down Tomura. When it is discovered that Lemmer has an Achilles Heel in the shape of a 15-year-old son at a Swiss boarding school, a plan is hatched. With the help of British intelligence official Appleby, they aim to kidnap the lad and use him as a bargaining chip with Lemmer. As regards Tomura, the resurrected Max finds himself on a rescue mission to save a woman he has never met, but who is close to his heart, from the dungeons of the evil count’s mountain stronghold.
In many ways this is a comfortably old fashioned story. There is little or no ambiguity in the characters; they are plainly on one side of the divide between good and evil or just as firmly on the other. Max is very much a stiff upper lip hero in the tradition of Richard Hannay, Bulldog Drummond and Biggles. He charges in where the proverbial angels fear to tread, and there is more than a touch of ‘Aha – you didn’t kill me – I was saved by my silver cigarette case!’ about his brushes with certain death, and snarling villains. Goddard captures perfectly the sights, sounds and smells of 1919 Japan. If you are new to the trilogy you may find yourself scratching your head working out who all the different characters are, this is a good escapist and melodramatic tale which will be enjoyed by anyone who loves a good blood-and-thunder adventure.
Enjoy books set in this era? Try this selection of World War I crime fiction.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars