Summer 1939. Germany has invaded Czechoslovakia. Jews desperate to flee Nazi persecution queue outside embassies in Berlin in the hope of getting a visa, while sending their children on Kindertransport to Britain. In the UK, the IRA’s bombing campaign continues. Scientists in Europe and America are researching atomic fission, and also at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. It is a vulnerable, combustible time. This is the setting for Nucleus by Rory Clements, second in his trilogy of history professor and amateur spy, Tom Wilde.
In the first book in the series, Corpus, Tom Wilde was more an amateur detective. In Nucleus, the stakes are higher, war is imminent, spies are everywhere and so are traitors. The problem is, they look like friends. Asked by none other than the US president Franklin D Roosevelt to be a ‘clear and unbiased voice’ for him on research at the Cavendish, Wilde is drawn into a world of American millionaires, a Hollywood actress, champagne, tennis parties and horseracing. And then one of the Cavendish physicists, a withdrawn, complicated genius due to move to the USA to work with Oppenheimer, is found drowned in the River Cam. Was he killed because he had unlocked the answer to converting atomic fission into a bomb capable of destroying a city? Meanwhile, Wilde’s girlfriend and neighbour, Lydia Morris, goes to Berlin on a mercy mission to search for the disappeared eight-year old son of Jewish scientist, Eva Haas, now in England. Could Albert have been kidnapped by the Gestapo to put pressure on his mother? And who is the mysterious German, Baumgarten, who helps Eva and her uncle, physicist Arnold Lindberg, escape to Austria. Tom Wilde, a specialist on Francis Walsingham, spymaster to Queen Elizabeth I, is an interesting protagonist; at times reckless but capable of analysis and leaps of faith.
Corpus was a slow read, at times lightly plotted, but Nucleus an emotional rollercoaster that continues until the last page. Clements avidly recreates the atmosphere of Britain on the brink of war; a summer where parties abound, people approach life with a reckless abandonment, where fear and paranoia combine with a ‘let’s get on with it’ attitude. I enjoyed Corpus but Nucleus is better. The plot twists and turns with all disparate elements connected together by the end. This is a compelling read which I devoured on a plane, sitting up to read it while others slept around me. The third in the series, as yet without title, is to be set in September 1939 as Germany invades Poland.
Here’s my review of Corpus, first in the Tom Wilde series.
‘Nucleus’ by Rory Clements, #2 Tom Wilde [UK: Zaffre]
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
NUCLEUS by Rory Clements #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3iZ via @SandraDanby