A Good Read for Tuesday…or Any Morning

We’ve all heard stories, good and bad, about Sir Winston Churchill in the early days of World War II before the Yanks joined in, but what haven’t we heard? What if there was a double agent in Great Britain’s MI-6 who, with the blessing of Heydrich and Hitler, had a plan to assassinate Churchill? What if there was an MI-6 agent who suspected this man but could prove nothing, at least not at first? This is the premise of Simon Tolkien’s latest thriller, Orders From Berlin, which not only answers these questions but serves as an introduction to Detective Trave of Scotland Yard, the protagonist of two of Tolkien’s earlier books.
Analyst Albert Morrison has been sent out to pasture but his former assistant Alec Thorn, now deputy head of MI-6, keeps in touch with his former boss, not only for Morrison’s expertise but because he harbors an affection for Morrison’s daughter Ava. When Thorn intercepts a coded message he believes might give a clue to the true identity of a Nazi agent embedded in MI-6, he goes to see Morrison. Discovering Morrison is not at home, he leaves a copy of the note for him to analyze. Thorn has his suspicions that Charles Seaforth, the department’s rapidly rising star, is Hitler’s man in MI-6 and believes Morrison might be able to decode the message from ‘D’ to ‘C’ in time to prevent disaster.
Seaforth, whose mission includes discrediting Thorn to get closer to Churchill, knows of Thorn’s close relationship with Morrison and panics when Morrison shows up looking for Thorn. He follows the older man home, tries to get information from him, but ends up pushing him over the balcony to his death. Ava, who has come to persuade her father to join her in the bomb shelter, sees her father fall from the balcony and land at her feet. Trave and his superior, Quaid, get the call to investigate what looks like a suicide but cannot convince Ava, who swears she saw someone push her father to his death. Seaforth pretends to be a friend of the victim to get close to Ava and sets in action a chain of events that are calculated to not only present the police with the murderer they seek but to implicate his nemesis Thorn in the assassination of Churchill while putting him at the top of the MI-6 ladder.
Simon Tolkien captures not only the atmosphere and tension of wartime London—a bonus for those who like historical settings—but the effect the constant uncertainty has on the people involved in that history. His characters are well-drawn but not so fixed that they cannot do the unexpected, and the twists the story takes make the reader wonder if somehow Seaforth will achieve his mission in spite of what we know of Churchill and the events of World War II.


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