As far as I’m concerned it’s always a cause for celebration when a new book in Rory Clements’ Tom Wilde series arrives. As my reviews will testify, I’ve loved all the previous books in the series – Corpus, Nucleus, Nemesis and Hitler’s Secret – but to my mind A Prince and a Spy is the best yet.
The novel is inspired by the real-life events surrounding the death of King George V’s brother, the Duke of Kent, in a plane crash in the far north of Scotland in August 1942. All but one of the occupants of the plane were killed, including the Duke. The author has used the continuing mystery surrounding the circumstances of the crash as the starting point for a story involving wartime atrocities, covert operations and a conspiracy at the heart of the British establishment.
If that isn’t enough to whet your appetite there are also dramatic pursuits across land and sea by ruthless enemies who will stop at nothing, the use of truth drugs to extract information and some rather unconventional flight accommodation. And fans of the series will no doubt share my delight as Tom Wilde fires up his trusty Rudge Special motorcycle for breakneck journeys across the country.
Sent to Scotland to investigate the air crash, Wilde just can’t stop himself from asking questions that go well beyond his stated cover story, bringing him to the attention of some particularly dangerous individuals and to others whose motives are less than clear. At one point, Wilde is warned, “Now you’re getting in tricky waters, Tom. Any herring man will tell you to stay away from the shallows and the rocks”. But, as anyone familiar with Tom Wilde will know, he’s just as likely to steer straight towards them.
Moving between Scotland, Sweden and wartime London, at certain points the author also transports the reader to the heart of the Third Reich giving a chilling insight into its evil efficiency and the personal rivalries between its key figures.
Eventually all the threads are brought together in order to explain the background to the dramatic event that opens the book. Although dark deeds dominate most of the book, its ending is just perfect and offers a much needed ray of light. However Tom being Tom, there are still unanswered questions that linger in his mind. I would have liked a more prominent role for Lydia, Wilde’s partner and the mother of his son, as she’s rather consigned to the domestic sidelines. However, that’s only a very minor gripe because in every other respect A Prince and a Spy has everything I look for in a historical thriller.
The author’s historical note provides fascinating information about the individuals who inspired some of the fictional characters, about the afterlives (where known) of the real characters and about some of the events portrayed in the book. Sadly, some of the most shocking scenes in the book are based on historical fact.