And there could be no more exciting and fascinating backdrop than those first, uncertain days of the Second World War when Europe faced the abyss, foreboding filled the air, and the key players marked out their territories in a volley of opening salvos.
So place yourself in the capable hands of master storyteller Rory Clements and witness real history in tandem with enthralling fiction as we join maverick Cambridge professor Tom Wilde on a rollercoaster mission to crack a ruthless spy ring aiming to control the course of the conflict.
Nemesis is the third book in Clements’ outstanding historical spy thriller series, which includes the brilliant Corpus and Nucleus, and has captured with both power and precision the febrile atmosphere of a pre-war Europe as it teeters on the edge of a precipice.
Best known for his gripping John Shakespeare Tudor espionage series, currently in development for television, Clements is a consummate historical novelist and this pre-war series has won an army of fans with its fast-paced international murder mysteries full of menace and intrigue, and starring a stunning mix of real and fictional characters.
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Star man is Tom Wilde, an unconventional, half-American, half-Irish Cambridge history professor whose speciality is Sir Francis Walsingham and the Elizabethan secret service, and whose loves include motorbiking, boxing, bird-watching … and 20th century espionage.
Here we find him enjoying a leisurely holiday in France in August of 1939 with that other love of his life, his wonderfully wise and beautiful girlfriend Lydia Morris. Whilst staying near Toulouse, he learns that one of his former Cambridge students, Marcus Marfield, who disappeared two years earlier to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War, is in the Le Vernet concentration camp in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
With the help of embassy contacts in Paris, Wilde manages to secure Marfield’s release but the 21-year-old former leading chorister is wounded and mentally damaged. As German tanks roll into Poland, Wilde and Lydia manage to drive him back to Cambridge only to discover that the young man’s mother wants nothing to do with her son.
Meanwhile, in a great English house, a young woman is offering herself to a 50-year-old man who is one of the most powerful and influential figures in the land. But this is no ordinary seduction… because she plans to ensure his death.
And in the Atlantic, a U-boat sinks the passenger liner SS Athenia with many casualties, including Americans who were on board. Germany’s propaganda supremo Joseph Goebbels claims that First Lord of the Admiralty Winston 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, Wilde finds himself in deadly danger. To solve the mystery, he must find out just who Marcus Marfield is… and where his loyalties lie.
Clements excels in this dramatic outing for the unorthodox Tom Wilde as his logic and acumen are tested to the limit in a Machiavellian plot which twists and turns at full-throttle through a mystery brimming with malevolence, menace, deceit and death and on to a haunting and mind-blowing finale.
From the nervous tensions of France and the hallowed halls of Cambridge to an uncertain Britain sandbagging itself against the rough winds of war and behind the scenes with the isolationist American ambassador Joe Kennedy and a charismatic Winston Churchill, Clements paints a rich and breathtakingly authentic portrait of Europe in 1939.
There is violence, there is cruel betrayal, there is evil, loyalty and touching tenderness in a story that is about as good as it gets for those looking for a thriller that blends fact and fiction, history and mystery, action and humanity in the most perfect harmony.
Rory Clements has nailed it in Nemesis… one can only hope that this is not the final chapter for the good professor.
(Zaffre, hardback, £12.99)