Peter Quinn is an avid reader of thrillers and was a schoolboy in Middlesex (now Greater London) throughout WW II
Simon Tolkien’s tale of a plot to assassinate Churchill is a variation on a theme well covered by Jack Higgins and Frederick Forsyth. The challenge is to create suspense and make the plot credible when the result is known; Churchill and de Gaulle were not kidnapped or assassinated.
Setting the story in 1940 is a risk, though, when there are millions still alive who lived through the Second World War and have often vivid memories.
World War II is well documented in print, film, and photographs making it an easy period to research; perhaps a little too easy. There are many errors: to name a few: the Brooklands motor racing circuit was a banked oval track without hairpin bends; many Londoners did indeed shelter during air raids in deep tube stations in the City and the East End, but it seems unlikely at Fulham Broadway on the District Line, which in any case was called Waltham Green until 1952; above all, British Military Police were and still are known as Redcaps not ‘Redhats’ [Even Spellcheck doesn’t like Redhats!].
Also, in 1940, it is unlikely that a female character (unless a secret petrolhead) would described an Austin 7 as “Not exactly a Jaguar”. The famous two-seater sports car the ‘SS100 Jaguar’ manufactured between 1936 and 1940 by SS Cars of Coventry was still known as ‘the SS’, though the name was changed later for obvious reasons. The company became the Jaguar we know and love today in 1945.
Another risk is to create fictitious meetings with leading historic characters. As an ex-military man, Churchill would have recognised instantly the name Seaforth, the name of the illustrious Scottish regiment the Seaforth Highlanders. Legend has it that heads of MI6 signed themselves ‘C’ following the first head of the secret service, Sir Mansfield Cumming, who signed with his initial – not because it is short for Chief.
Bill Trave, the hero of Orders from Berlin, is a young Detective Constable at odds with his boss who is trying to fit up an innocent man for the murder of a retired deputy head of MI6. Charles Seaforth is a rising star at MI6 who is also odds with his boss, Alec Thorn. Alec Thorn does not trust Seaforth but in turn is at odds with his own boss, C, the head of MI6, who believes that Thorn is bitter because he had not been promoted to C. Trave and Thorn start to suspect that Seaforth was the murderer in order to hide the fact he is spying for Reinhard Heydrich of the SS and also plotting to assassinate Churchill.
The assassination plot itself is ingenious, even if some of the twists and turns are a little contrived and the pace increases gently to the inevitable anti-climax. Orders from Berlin is a book you might want to read when lounging by a pool or to while away a long tedious flight.