Reviewed by Ian Lipke
In 1941 the Allies are in a desperate situation. They require a new type of offensive weapon to level at their Nazi opponents. They need a way to demonstrate that Hitler was not the clean, fine character that his propaganda portrays. Posing as a wealthy industrialist, Tom Wilde enters Germany to sell his new, but fictitious, invention to one of the Nazi leaders. Round his head is a deadly struggle between Martin Bormann and Herman Goering. Featured as a major character is Sunny Somerfeld, a beautiful woman with secrets of her own. But Wilde has his own ideas, and they are nothing to do with industry.
One of the great strengths of this book is the depiction of German society under the Nazi regime. It is a picture of a culture that has taken into its bosom the acceptance of black and white, the incorrectness of veering away, the necessity of treating slavishly and literally every statement that the leader commands. Every level of mainstream society is shown as sharing the same slavish belief in the veracity of the leader’s doctrines. Even a young child who accompanies Wilde and Sunny Somerfeld on their flight from Germany is infected. ‘Following orders’ replacing ‘reasoned acceptance’ is the norm.
The Nazi government has been swallowed by history but an undercurrent of belief in imposed order lingers. Witness the treatment of tourists on guided tours in Salzburg, where groups, depending on the guide, are commanded to follow a rigid set of rules, and sightsee within imposed time limits.
This book is valuable in its revelation of the human condition, in particular in showing the strength of behaviour modification through fear.
At one level this is a tale of derring-do featuring Cambridge Professor Tom Wilde. Book Number Four in this Fantastic Tales series, features the same ‘brilliant, history professor’ as its predecessors. I don’t mean to disparage the book, which I found very interesting and enjoyable, but I did find the hero perplexing, almost insipid and unimaginative. I did not wonder what was happening to his students while he was rescuing the world. Tutors have always carried the bulk of the teaching load. I did wonder, however, how a university could afford to have a senior member of its learned body swanning around so often in a Boys’ Own Annual type adventure. But then, I suppose if the professor is preparing a lecture on such an outdated concept as ‘the Elizabethan world view’ (14) to a handful of undergraduates, the university authorities would probably not miss him.
I found the plot to be driven by events that are not telegraphed to the reader. Each event comes out of nowhere, and exerts a significant impact on the direction of the storyline. For example, the character Offenbach appears as a villain, associated with some rather nasty Nazis. The character Sunny takes very opportunity to effect Wilde’s escape back to the UK. Suddenly, she’s having sex with Offenbach, who is really not the enemy after all. The really bad villains are presented in such a way that describing them with the old cliché ‘evil personified’ is too tame.
Jung was drooling. His teeth and gums were bared. No one spoke to him like that. He pushed the muzzle of the pistol into the old seafarer’s eye and squeezed the trigger…Jung looked down at the body with a strange longing; he wanted to kill the man again, and again, and keep killing him.
An electric current surged through him” (210)
Odd events feature through the book. The escapees flee Martin Bormann’s wrath to, of all places, Goering’s estate, where Frau Goering lends Sunny, Wilde and the child her husband’s prize car. The plot grows heavy with coincidence. Under heavy fire, Wilde and his companions are rescued by Offenbach, who just happens to be in the neighbourhood, and gets himself in trouble and so the story wanders off in a new direction.
When most things associated with spy literature have been installed in the plot, the book comes to an end, tied off quite satisfactorily. In its own strange way, the whole mish-mash turns into an interesting read. Thrilling? Yes, at times. Boring? Well, never. And so, I’m really quite happy to recommend Hitler’s Secret to readers as a worthwhile yarn.
By Rory Clements