A Prince and a Spy by Rory Clements: Brutal, menacing, packed with drama and subterfuge - book review -

Just days after two royal princes meet up for secret talks in wartime Sweden, one of them is killed in a mysterious air crash.

Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 12:30 pm
A Prince and a Spy by Rory Clements

The official story is that it was an accident but not everyone is convinced, and soon maverick Cambridge professor and undercover spy Tom Wilde will be undertaking his most dangerous mission yet to dig out the truth behind the tragedy.

Former national newspaper journalist Rory Clements is giving the likes of Robert Harris and C.J Sansom a run for their money with his thrilling ‘what if’ historical novels starring a half-American, half-Irish history don determined to do his bit for ‘peace and freedom.’

Not content to rest on his laurels after the outstanding success of his gripping John Shakespeare Tudor espionage series, currently in development for television, Clements has proved himself to be a consummate novelist of any chosen historical period with his acclaimed Tom Wilde books.

Clements’ work is always underpinned by extensive research and rich period detail, and this wartime series has won an army of fans with its fast-paced international mysteries, full of menace and intrigue, and featuring a stunning mix of real and fictional characters.

Star player is undoubtedly Tom, an unconventional professor whose speciality is Sir Francis Walsingham and the Elizabethan secret service, and whose loves include his wife and young son, motorbiking, boxing, bird-watching … and 20th century espionage.

A Prince and a Spy is the fifth book in the series which has included Corpus, Nucleus, Nemesis and Hitler’s Secret, and sweeps us away to 1942 and deep into a perilous plot that goes all the way to the heart of the Third Reich… and the British monarchy.

The story was inspired by the real-life – some say suspicious – military air crash near Caithness in Scotland in 1942 which killed Prince George, Duke of Kent, the flamboyant youngest brother of wartime King George VI, and spawned various conspiracy theories.

In Stockholm in August of 1942, the meeting of royal cousins, Prince George and Prince Philipp von Hesse, a committed Nazi and close friend of Adolf Hitler, has one single purpose… to find out what each man wants and what he can offer.

They might be relatives but they are both wary because just one misplaced word, one misinterpreted expression could cause untold harm. As the meeting ends, any hope of an accommodation for peace seems as far away as ever and behind the men’s backs, the eyes of their aides meet.

A few days later, Prince George is killed in a plane crash in the north of Scotland. The official line is that it was an accident but some remain suspicious, and there are even rumours that the Duke’s plane was sabotaged.

Tom Wilde, who has left MI6 and is now engaged full-time with the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), the fledgling American intelligence agency, is on his way home from London and eager to see his long-time love Lydia Morris and their two-year-old son Johnny for a spell of leave at their home in Cambridge.

But when the enigmatic Philip Eaton, an MI6 man who likes to ‘gather information, but reveal nothing’ knocks on his door, Tom knows his hopes of time with his family are dashed.

Tom’s boss at the OSS, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who is godfather to the Duke of Kent’s baby son, are both looking for the truth. The Duke’s enemies are our enemies, says the president, and he wants to know who killed him... and why.

Dispatched to Scotland and knowing that he is on a mission which could attract the attention of all those with a vested interest in winning the war, Tom finds he can’t trust anyone, not even old allies, and his enquiries take him toward some shocking discoveries about events taking place in Germany.

But the Nazis have him in their sights and danger lies ahead…

Cool-hand academic Tom has to be one of historical fiction’s most charismatic adventurers… as intrepid as he is intellectually gifted, the unorthodox, US-born professor has thankfully acquired an engaging insouciance and British stiff upper lip stoicism which stand him in good stead as he encounters some deadly enemies.

And in an enthralling echo of John Buchan’s 1915 Scottish adventure, The Thirty-Nine Steps, with its hunted, haunting, cat-and-mouse chase across a wild and unforgiving far-north landscape, we follow Tom into a tangled web of dangerous secrets.

This was a pivotal period in the progress of the war, following shortly after Operation Jubilee, in which the Allies launched an amphibious raid on the German-occupied port of Dieppe in northern France, garnering invaluable lessons for the successful D-Day invasion in 1944, but at the cost of many lives.

In what is now his trademark style, Clements harnesses these landmark nuggets of real history – not least the chilling reports of Nazi atrocities which by now had started filtering through to the West – and uses them to add disturbing and thought-provoking authenticity to a hard-hitting story.

Brutal, menacing, packed with drama and subterfuge, and with a humble hero spy who always manages to keep his humanity in the face of others’ inhumanity, A Prince and A Spy is one of the best historical adventures you will read this year.

(Zaffre, paperback, £8.99)