It is 1936. The Spanish civil war is in full swing. A constitutional crisis looms as Edward VIII considers abdicating in order to marry the woman he loves. Corpus by Rory Clements starts in Berlin as a young Englishwoman slips away from a friend to deliver a secret package to an unnamed man. Soon after, Nancy Hereward is dead. It is Nancy’s death which makes Cambridge history professor Tom Wilde ask questions, awkward questions which lead him to uncover conspiracy, lies, and pre-war positioning by Stalin and Hitler.
Wilde makes an interesting amateur detective. For one, he is American with a different reading of human nature; he sits on the fence and observes. For another, he is a professor of history; he analyses and looks for proof rather than opinion. And third, he has a cool motorcycle that he uses to cross the fens and investigate isolated country houses. The story starts rather slowly as Clements fleshes out various groups involved without letting the reader know how these people are connected, and who is traitorous. There is one out-and-out baddie, another who looks like a baddie but possibly isn’t, and a journalist who may or not be a spy or a traitor. The reader’s confusion reflects Tom Wilde’s muddle as he and Nancy’s friend Lydia, both disillusioned with official efforts to explain Nancy’s death, unite to investigate. I particularly enjoyed the description of Cambridge in the 1930s, college life, the city and surrounding fens. The portrayal of Cambridge dons is rather polarised, they all seem to be either fascists or communists, reflecting the political jockeying that went on pre-war.
The plot features twist upon twist as Wilde, and the reader, doesn’t know who to trust: is that policeman really honest, or in the pay of the fascists or communists? Perhaps there is one twist too many as Clements manipulates history to fit his plotline. I have a few minor quibbles, knowing that this is the first book of a series. Some of the loose ends were tied off conveniently at the end with minimal or no explanation. The gold plot was lightly sketched and lacked significance. And the budding romance seemed rather one-sided. A good read, not a great read, but it left me liking Tom Wilde and anticipating the next novel, Nucleus.
‘Corpus’ by Rory Clements, #1 Tom Wilde [UK: Zaffre]
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