Hitler’s Secret is the fourth novel in the superbly entertaining Tom Wilde series. Set in 1941 this is a fast paced WWII thriller that really grips the imagination, a mix of espionage and chase adventure story. Fans of the previous three books, Corpus, Nucleus, and Nemesis will already have been charmed by the exploits of academic/spy Tom Wilde and new readers will soon take to this genuinely pleasurable historical series. Tom Wilde is a charismatic central character. Indeed, all the characters, both good and bad (and occasionally downright evil) are engaging in Hitler’s Secret. The ‘what if?’ speculation of the plot is intriguing and plausible and the story is so readable that you will fly through it.

Martin Bormann is Hitler’s gatekeeper, controlling access to the Führer by the other Nazi leaders amuses him. Goebbels, Ley, Rommel, Göring, and all the others resent that. Bormann revels in this power but he is feeding his enemies’ ire. Now Bormann has a secret to hide and he has chosen Otto Kalt for a mission that must never come to light. Kalt has killed for Bormann in the past, he is willing to do so again now. He isn’t the kind of man to question orders, he has no qualms about murder, and he knows success will be well rewarded. This is the most crucial mission he has been tasked with, failure cannot be countenanced. Bormann has the Taufschein und Geburtszeugis (birth and baptism) certificate of a ten-year-old girl on his desk. His instructions to Kalt are clear: find the girl, kill her and eliminate anyone associated with her and any possible witnesses, do it quickly but do it quietly.

In Braundorf, Father Peter Huber rises before daylight, he has to leave Trudchen’s bed before the locals are about, fortunately the snow falls will cover his prints from her cabin as he heads back to the church. Huber doesn’t realise two men are already watching his movements. Shortly after arriving at the church a man he doesn’t recognise enters, apologising for the early hour he introduces himself as a lawyer from Bremen by the name of Kalt. He is looking for Klara Wolf, the child has come into an inheritance following the death of a rich relative in Hamburg. Wary, Huber smells Gestapo not lawyer, he denies any knowledge of the girl. Kalt points out that the child was baptised by him ten years ago in this very church, still Huber refuses to co-operate. Surprisingly Kalt leaves, the priest is spooked. He calls Frau Dietrich in Berlin to warn her, she realises this is a mistake and hangs up but it is too late, Dietrich is now in Kalt’s sights too. A few minutes later Kalt returns with a goon and they begin working on the priest.

Thomas Esser, an American businessman of German descent, is flying over the Pyrenees en route to Berlin. America is not yet in the war and Esser is intending to establish trade with the Third Reich, at least that is his cover story. Esser is really Cambridge Don Tom Wilde and his real mission is to collect a package. Wilde, a reluctant spy, is now working for Cashbone of the Co-ordination of Information Office, Bill Donovan’s American intelligence agency based in London. Despite his young family Wilde feels this is his duty.

In Berlin, Esser/Wilde meets minister Todt and a technical meeting with Ferdinand Porsche is set up, that would expose Wilde to a scrutiny he can’t pass. He has no choice but to bring his real mission forward and abandon his cover. Through his contact in the American Embassy, an old friend, Wilde locates the package but getting out of Germany will take all his ingenuity and a deal of luck.

Meanwhile, Romy Dietrich falls into Kalt’s hands. Only a few people know why this child’s elimination is so important to Bormann, Dietrich is one of them, she will do her best to resist Kalt’s goon but will give up Klara sooner or later. The fates of young Klara, Romy Dietrich, the countess wife of a German war ace and Tom Wilde are soon bound up together. It’s not long before Bormann decides that Kalt needs extra help, he assigns Charlie Jung, a man with a past that makes him ideal for this mission.

The stakes are high in Hitler’s Secret as Wilde tries to escape from Germany but there is a lot more going on than meets the eye. Tom Wilde, an expert on Elizabethan spy master Francis Walsingham, is a pawn in a much bigger game that could influence the outcome of the war.

Some of the scenes in Hitler’s Secret are really evocative of the period. The barn scene where Kalt and his henchman are torturing Romy Dietrich which also involves his peasant farmer wife has a macabre feel. It says a lot about a certain kind of thug the Nazi party used for its dirty work.

Clements has a way of delving into the past, adding a fictional twist to real history and, here’s the good bit, not interfering with what really happened or altering events. Fiction doesn’t have to be historically accurate but any speculation should be respectful of the actualité. The story of Hitler’s Secret is intriguing in this way.

Wilde is a likeable reluctant spy, a man who would love to live the simple life of a Cambridge Don and enjoy his young family but he knows he has responsibilities and talents that go beyond personal concerns. Sadly for him, those around him are rarely as straightforward. This is a world of cross and double cross, of hidden agendas and ambitions, from internecine struggles within the Nazi party leadership to the territorial claims of the fledgling American security services. Research is worn lightly and peripheral details sit well within the story and help to ground in firmly in time and place. Whether in Cambridge or Berlin the setting is spot on. There’s a neat denouement to this chase thriller, so much is going on, and there’s a twist to finish strongly. This fourth Wilde novel ends as 1942 dawns and, as the war has three years to run, I hope there are more to come from Wilde.

The first book in the Tom Wilde series, Corpus, began in 1936 and revolved around a conspiracy to derail British democracy by halting the abdication of Edward VIII. Nucleus and Nemesis dealt with plots to steal nuclear secrets from scientists in Cambridge and the Spanish Civil War. The whole series will appeal to fans of Robert Harris’s novel Munich and Chris Petit’s The Butchers of Berlin series. This is historical thriller writing that you can tear through but it has depth. Tom Wilde is rapidly becoming as entertaining as Clements’ Elizabethan spy John Shakespeare.

Paul Burke 4/4

Hitler’s Secret by Rory Clements
Zaffre 9781838770273 hbk Jan 2020