Politics, espionage, murder mystery thriller: 1936, Fascism, Communism and a Royal Abdication
Rory Clements’ Corpus, the start of a new series, I assume, nods towards his well-established John Shakespeare, Tudor set spy thriller series. This is because, though set in that turbulent time of the mid-30’s where totalitarian politics are on the rise, and the only possible response to fascism appears to lead to war, his central character here is an academic, an historian, with a special interest in the politics of espionage in Elizabeth’s court, Robert Cecil and Walsingham.
Tom Wilde is an attractive hero, drawn unwillingly into mystery. An American, with strong links to the UK, he has sadness in his life, as a man whose beloved wife and child died in a car accident. He is no bed-hopping Lothario, though he is aware of feeling a strong attraction for Lydia, a fiercely intelligent literary graduate, poet and publisher, with strong anti-fascist and socialist views
It is 1936. No one of intelligence can be unaware that there are choices to be made. Spain is engaged in its own fight against Fascism. There are those engaged in furthering the influence of Fascism, and there are those engaged in countering that, and secrecies, and plots, are all around.
Meanwhile, in England, still a hushed up scandal, and possible constitutional crisis is looming. Edward VIIIth is seriously enamoured of an American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. There are those who would see him go – as much for his politics as for anything to do with the constitutional crisis between the King’s position as nominal head of the Church of England, and his desire to marry a divorcee. Edward’s politics were regarded suspiciously. It was thought that he would be more likely to interfere politically, rather than maintain the hands off stance of constitutional monarchy. He was also regarded in Germany as being sympathetic towards the Nazi cause, and so there were those abroad who felt Britain would be a better friend of the Reich if King Edward remained than if he abdicated. Stanley Baldwin, it was known, was implacably opposed to Edward marrying Mrs Simpson, and was inching abdication forward as the only possible solution
When a friend of Lydia’s dies in mysterious circumstances, back in the fiction world of this strongly ‘real world set’ book, Wilde is drawn into trying to help her find out what has happened – and a real twisty, turny, wheels within wheels, where does anyone’s real allegiance lie tale begins to play out.
This scores, both in page turning plot, and in interesting history.
My draw back from 5 star is the result of the action man finale, where our motorcycling academic hero physically tangles with the bad guys he has been heading towards unmasking. Some might enjoy the derring do, but I generally find that action man hero stuff gets pretty unconvincing, given the real fragility of blood, flesh and bone, even given the fact that adrenaline rushes can numb awareness of horrid injuries
I’m certainly interested in going further with Wilde, and what looks like an intelligent series, and hope for tone down of the more Bondian, blockbuster film stuff, remarkably unreal as it pretty well always is