About the Book
It’s 1936. Europe is in turmoil. The Nazis have marched into the Rhineland. In Russia, Stalin has unleashed his Great Terror. Spain has erupted in civil war.
In Berlin, a young Englishwoman evades the Gestapo to deliver vital papers to a Jewish scientist. Within weeks, she is found dead in her Cambridge bedroom, a silver syringe clutched in her fingers. In a London club, three senior members of the British establishment light the touch paper on a conspiracy that will threaten the very heart of government. Even the ancient colleges of Cambridge are not immune to political division. Dons and students must choose a side: right or left, where do you stand?
When a renowned member of the county set and his wife are found horribly murdered, a maverick history professor finds himself dragged into a world of espionage which, until now, he has only read about in books. But the deeper Thomas Wilde delves, the more he wonders whether the murders are linked to the death of the girl with the silver syringe – and, just as worryingly, to the scandal surrounding King Edward VIII and his mistress Wallis Simpson…
Format: Hardcover (352 pp.) Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
Published: 26th January 2017 Genre: Historical Fiction, Thriller
Find Corpus (Tom Wilde #1) on Goodreads
I’m a huge fan of Rory Clements’ John Shakespeare series set in Elizabethan England. I was lucky enough to hear Rory speak at the Henley Literary Festival in June, when I also got the chance to ask him to sign my copy of Corpus. To read my review of the event, click here. However, to save you looking, I will say that Rory revealed plans to return to John Shakespeare in the future after he’s completed the planned three books in his new Tom Wilde series.
There were a couple of things that struck me as I was reading Corpus. The first was that, by chance, I was reading the book at the same time of year as the majority of story is set, namely the first few days of December (albeit quite a few decades apart). The second was that there were numerous parallels between Corpus and the author’s John Shakespeare series.
The obvious one is that the specialist subject of the protagonist of Corpus, Professor Thomas (Tom) Wilde, is the Tudor spymasters Sir Francis Walsingham and Sir Robert Cecil, who feature in the John Shakespeare books. Incidentally, the author gives us a few hints about Tom Wilde’s back story, including that there is a tragedy in his past which we will no doubt learn more about in future books.
Drawn into investigating a suspicious death, Wilde approaches detection with the eye of an historian. As he tells his students: “Argue with me! […] Make me prove my points, demand evidence, get as near the truth as you can. Re-examine everything you have ever been told and make your own mind up on the evidence you can find. And if there is not enough evidence, then keep an open mind. Become a detective – because if you don’t, you’ll never become a historian.”
As I read on, I started to see other links between the world of John Shakespeare and the world of Tom Wilde. For instance, the covert action, spying, intrigue and plots that infected Elizabethan times are mirrored in the turbulent politics of 1930s Britain. As in the Tudor period, there are ruthless zealots prepared to die for a cause, men of cunning practised in the art of duplicity, and unknowing dupes drawn into plots through greed, ‘fake news’ or misguided adherence to organisations much more extreme than they appear on the surface.
And you have a clash of two different belief systems – in this case Communism and Fascism – with the adherents of each out to destroy the other. Finally the abdication crisis of 1936 sees a monarch in peril, with different political factions anxious either to preserve the status quo or to advance the fortunes of another candidate more sympathetic to their views. Where you have the Duke of York (later George V) in the case of Edward VIII, you have Mary, Queen of Scots in the case of Elizabeth I. As Wilde, an American of Irish heritage, ruefully observes, “You English haven’t really moved on much from the Middle Ages, have you?”
The storyline unfolds with plenty of twists and turns. There are action-packed confrontations and dangerous situations for our hero to navigate, including answering that crucial question: who can I trust? Corpus is a compelling historical thriller with a storyline full of plots and intrigue that melds actual and imaginary events in a plausible way. I really enjoyed it and cannot wait to read the next book in the series, Nucleus.
Luckily for me, thanks to the lovely people at Bonnier Zaffre, I have an advance reading copy of Nucleus sitting on my bookshelf. Watch out for my review around the time of its publication in January 2018. A third outing for Tom Wilde is promised as well…
In three words: Compelling, atmospheric, suspenseful
Try something similar…The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
About the Author
Rory Clements has had a long and successful newspaper career including being features editor and associate editor of Today, editor of the Daily Mail‘s Good Health Pages, and editor of the health section at the Evening Standard. He now writes full-time in an idyllic corner of Norfolk, England.
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