Corpus

Written by Rory Clements

Review written by Stephen Thornley

An avid reader, Stephen's knowledge of Crime Fiction is fairly extensive, with The Golden Age is his greatest interest.


Corpus
Zaffre
RRP: £12.99
Released: January 26 2017
Hardcover

Set in 1936 in the university town of Cambridge this stylish thriller is expertly conceived and convincingly told.

The year 1936 was a momentous one for a Europe building up to WWII. There was the occupation of the Rhineland by Hitler's Nazi forces in March that broke the Treaty of Versailles. The year also saw the Spanish Civil War begin with each side being supported by major powers, the Republicans by the Soviet Union and the Nationalists, led by Franco, aided by the Nazis. In the Autumn the Axis Alliance was announced linking the Nazi regime with Mussolini's Fascists and the Japanese. In Russia the Great Purge began as Stalin sought to remove all opposition. In Britain there was a constitutional crisis with the new King Edward VIII intent on marrying a divorcee.

This spy thriller has a Cambridge professor Thomas Wilde as it's central character. Wilde is an American who has lived in Cambridge for some years after the loss of his wife. He is somewhat of a loner preferring his home outside the college to the club atmosphere of the Senior Common Room and Halls. Professor Wilde's subject is History and his specialism is the Elizabethan Secret Service. He has a friend in his next door neighbor Lydia Morris but appears unsure of the depth of his feelings for her.

A drama with many threads this plot keeps you in suspense. There are facts and conjectures coming thick and fast as Wilde questions college dons, communist party members and Fascist sympathizers. Mr Clements captures the mood of the era. The ruling classes are still in control with their servants, country houses and estates but, they have become increasingly alarmed at the way the world is turning. Since the end of the Great War many are living with the fear of a communist style revolution happening here; while the working classes have suffered severe hardships through the depression and are looking for a more even distribution of wealth. The political turmoil in Europe is helping to create a real feeling of unrest that reaches even to the cloistered, steady and traditional quods of Cambridge.

The intrigues playing out across Europe pitching democratic freedoms against the new politics of the Fascist and Communist dictatorships are reflected within the University. Here many dons and their students demonstrate support for the right or left. Some dons take direct action such as encouraging and financing young men to travel to Spain to join in the international brigades while others join secret fascist organizations preparing to defend the country against the communist threat.

Professor Wilde finds himself offering to help Lydia, a small time publisher and ex undergraduate of Girton College. She asks Wilde to look into the circumstances surrounding the death of her friend Nancy. Nancy Hereward was a notorious student when up at Girton with Lydia and their friend Margot Langley. It looks like a suicide or accidental overdose, but Lydia is not convinced. Nancy, a committed communist, was the daughter of Sir Norman Hereward the retired Master of Wilde's college. Sir Norman is a man with right wing views and friends in high places.

Lydia believes that Nancy's death has something to do with their trip to Berlin in the summer to see the Olympics. Nancy had left Lydia to do some sightseeing of her own, but was it more than sightseeing she did? The police seem satisfied that Nancy's death is an accidental overdose, she was a drug addict. Wilde then receives the offer of help from an unlikely source in the form of a Times special correspondent Philip Eaton while attending a speech given by a senior Russian communist just returned from Spain. But, who or what is Eaton for he seems to know a lot about Nancy and Cambridge society for a London reporter.

However, when a husband and wife are found murdered in their country manor house, their throats cut and communist slogans written in blood on the walls Wilde begins to think there is a link to Nancy's death. The couple were the parents of Margot Langley they were also friends of Nancy's father and of the King.

Wilde will need all his intelligence and knowledge gained from his studies of Elizabethan spy masters to navigate his way through the plotting and counter plotting of enemy intelligence agencies. This case goes right to the top of government and to the King himself with even a senior member of the royal household blackmailed by the Nazis. In this lively and incisive tale will Wilde work out who is working for whom, what lies behind the killings and whether to trust anyone?

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