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Written by Rory Clements — If you’ve read the previous two adventures featuring Cambridge professor Tom Wilde you will know that he has little time to bury himself in dusty archives or hold student seminars and lectures. For this action man, who has spied for both the British and American governments, is once again caught up in the seismic events leading up to the outbreak of World War II, as he was in the previous installment, Nucleus.

This time the consequences of his decisions and actions are even more crucial, as we are right on the cusp of war in August and September 1939. He’s caught up in a plot that will determine whether America will join the Allies against the Fascists and this is at the heart of the book’s premise.

Wilde has been jilted days before his impeding marriage by his independent lover Lydia, but there are no hard feelings and the couple are as close as ever they were as they visit France for their ‘honeymoon’. What Wilde doesn’t notice is that Lydia needs a lot more naps than usual and often feels nauseous.

Wilde is approached by a bedraggled survivor of the Spanish Civil War. The man wants Wilde to rescue one of his own former students, who left Cambridge two years earlier to fight in Spain. He’s being held in an internment camp near Toulouse. Wilde secures the release of Marfield, who appears shell-shocked and terrified.

Shortly afterwards a U-boat sinks the liner Athenia with the loss of many Americans who had been fleeing Europe, and the Nazis are hell bent on blaming Churchill for the atrocity, claiming the action was to lure the US into the war.

Meanwhile, in a country house, a young Cambridge woman of Russian parentage, Elina Kossof seduces Joe Kennedy, the US ambassador to Britain. She is taken onto his staff, but actually has a view to a kill. Then an attempt is made on the life of the American ambassador to France.

When Wilde and Lydia return to Cambridge with Marfield it gradually becomes clear that the golden boy is not all that he seems. His father commits suicide the day he arrives back in Britain and more deaths connected with him come thick and fast. Who has Marfield become and what are his motives?

Lydia plays her part in investigating what is going on as Wilde roars around Cambridge and the Fens on his trusty Rudge Special motorbike, takes on thugs and assassins and finds time to sit by the deathbed of his friend and Cambridge fellow Horace Dill. He is co-opted for undercover surveillance of some dubious characters by British spymaster Philip Eaton, who suspects that events in Cambridge are part of an international conspiracy from a ruthless spy ring that threatens Britain’s outcome in the war. He’s not wrong.

Although you will know the fate of some of the real-life characters that feature and that America does join the Allies, albeit much later, this won’t detract from your enjoyment of this twisty action thriller that somehow also captures the slower pace and manners of 1930s Britain. What author Rory Clements does so successfully is paint a picture of authenticity to immerse you in that world when every citizen was in jeopardy. 

However, you will spot some of the cast of villains long before Wilde, Lydia and Eaton as they scrabble for evidence while trying to stay alive, which may not always be what you want. The multiple narratives keep the momentum spinning forward though and there’s no stalling or time to catch your breath.

Although this spy thriller is plot-driven, this is not at the expense of a fine cast of characters with Wilde at the helm. He’s complex and always ready to act under fire, sometimes rashly, to protect those he loves and what he sees as right. 

Nucleus won the Crime Writers’ Association Historical Dagger and five stars from us. Nemesis is right on target again.

For more historical crime fiction set around World War II try Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series set before, during and after the War, and Howard Linskey’s Hunting the Hangman.


CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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