I was expecting this to be a very good book. Sam Bourne is the pseudonym of Jonathan Freedland, an excellent journalist and broadcaster whose work I enjoy very much. Sadly, the same cannot be said for his fiction.
Set in 1940 the main protagonist is James Zennor, an Oxford don wounded in the Spanish Civil War, physically and mentally scarred and unable to join up and fight the Nazis. His wife and son vanish and he eventually traces and follows them to Yale in the USA where he realises that Something Suspicious Is Going On and that He Does Not Know Whom He Can Trust. This, basically, is the plot of the first 300 (yes 300) pages of the book. There is a great deal of scene-setting in flashback, details of the Spanish Civil War, stuff about the contrast between life in Britain in 1940 and that in the USA and, frankly, a huge amount of superfluous verbiage. There are endless paragraphs where Zennor repeats to himself what we already know and speculates about perhaps this or maybe that and it all adds up to very little. It is phenomenally slow and even the bits where something actually happens didn't really grip me. I found that there were several "oh, please" moments and the "revelations" were largely visible from a long way off. When the Dastardly Plot is finally revealed it is self-evidently repugnant, but we still have to have its repugnance explained to us through yet more of Zennor's internal monologue, and I began to feel seriously patronized at this point.
The prose is competent and there is a lot of laboriously demonstrated research on show but details, particularly in the dialogue, fail to convince. For example the Master of an Oxford College in 1940 denies responsibility for something with the phrase "It's not down to me," and a hard-bitten Irish American cop who has just informed Zennor that he "don't like limeys," actually says, "Forgive my little impromptu examination just then." This sort of thing crops up frequently enough to ruin any sense of character which has been developed.
I am sorry to be so critical, but I really found this book a struggle and, in the end, a chore. I will be sticking to Mr Freedland's journalism from now on.