“Can a ruthless spy ring change the course of war? In a great English house, a young woman offers herself to one of the most powerful and influential figures in the land – but this is no ordinary seduction. She plans to ensure his death . . . On holiday in France, Professor Tom Wilde discovers his brilliant student Marcus Marfield, who disappeared two years earlier to join the International Brigades in Spain, in the Le Vernet concentration camp in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Wilde secures his release just as German tanks roll into Poland. Meanwhile, a U-boat sinks the liner Athenia in the Atlantic with many casualties, including Americans, onboard. Goebbels claims Churchill put a bomb in the ship to blame Germany and to lure America into the war. As the various strands of an international conspiracy begin to unwind, Tom Wilde will find himself in great personal danger. For just who is Marcus Marfield? And where does his loyalty lie?”

This publisher’s profile sets the scene for the third book in Rory Clements’ series starring Tom Wilde, professor of history at a Cambridge college and his next-door neighbour girlfriend, Lydia Morris. In addition to including various characters from previous books, it introduces several new ones, both fictional and real-life, who are used to drive this series forward into the early weeks of the Second World War. With numerous strands, the story moves between the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, France, Scotland, the west coast of Ireland, the fens of East Anglia and the town and colleges of Cambridge. It is a fast-moving story which includes political intrigue, mistaken identity, double-bluff after double-bluff, espionage, treachery, sabotage, high-speed car/motorbike chases and ever-present danger for the protagonists of the story – all the ingredients needed to produce a fairly high-octane thriller!

Although there were times when I found it necessary to suspend disbelief about some of the plot developments, I felt enough engagement with the characters to feel able to do so with good humoured tolerance! Tom’s forays into the dark, murky world of espionage, whilst demanding more suspension of disbelief, did allow the author to explore the labyrinthine interrelationships and rivalries between MI6, MI5, Special Branch etc. However, I was able to feel much more straightforwardly engaged with the more realistic complexities of the relationship between Tom and Lydia, and the will they/won’t they ever get married question which continues to hang over it. Each of them is likeable and convincing and at the end of the story I was left wanting to know what will happen to them as the war progresses!

The new character of Marcus Marfield is central to this story and, although it’s impossible to go into detail about why without risking plot-spoilers, the contrast between a character with a “voice from heaven”, a chorister in the King’s College Chapel Choir, and someone hiding dark secrets, created much of the tension which ran throughout the novel.

As in Nucleus, the previous book I read in this series, one of the things I enjoyed most about this story was the way in which Rory Clements interwove historical events into his story-telling, adding an authenticity which drove the narrative. He captured the massive political turbulence of the time and demonstrated the power of the huge propaganda “war” which was being waged, with Britain, France desperate to secure American support, and Germany equally determined that the US should remain neutral. The Germans’ attempt to shift the blame onto the British for the torpedoing of the Athenia, was done with the purpose of encouraging the American people to maintain their neutrality. He also illustrated how the conflicting political factions which held sway in Britain, France and Spain at that time posed almost as dangerous and divisive as the threat from Germany – given what is happening with the current Brexit negotiations there were moments when all of this felt far too depressingly familiar!

It is clear that Rory Clements has researched this period well and made use of the knowledge he gained to create an evocative sense of place and convincing contemporary dialogue, something which certainly added to my enjoyment of this story. His inclusion at the end of the book of excerpts from contemporary diary entries, letters etc. provided not only fascinating and moving insights into the lives of ordinary people but reinforced just how effectively he had used his research throughout all aspects of his storytelling.

Linda Hepworth 4/4

Nemesis by Rory Clements
Zaffre 9781785767487 hbk Jan 2019