on 15 August 2014
This is one of my all time favourite novels. I actually own an early HB edition, not the new reprint, but can vouch for the quality of the reprints in the BL classics series. The Great Impersonation is indeed a spy novel, but most of it isn't about spying: in fact its more Downton Abbey than James Bond, as most of the action revolves around the central character (a German spy pretending to be a British aristocrat who he looks like the doppelganger of) trying to mend his estate's fortunes and relationship with 'his' wife. Is it a literary classic on par with Dickens or Austen? No. Its more in the way of 1920s mass fiction, but it is a jolly good page turner, and the twist at the end - which is not too difficult to guess at - is brilliantly executed in totally patriotic style. Of the few Oppenheim's I've read, by far the best
This book has been republished by The British Library who are making a great impression with all the long forgotten titles which they are bringing back to the notice of the public.
This particular title is simply terrific. A John Buchan type ripping yarn full of heroics, bravery, love of one's country, an impersonation and two beautiful women, one an adventuress and one a loving wife. Oh and a double bluff/twist. What more could you want?
A disgraced British aristocrat, Everard Diminey, wrongly accused of murder and driving his wife to insanity, Oppfled to East Africe and there he has languished and lived a hopeless and aimless life. One day he stumbles out of the bush, ill and alone, and comes face to face with the German Baron Ragenstein. They knew each other at university and look so like each other that they were often mixed up by their friends. Diminey stays with him recovering his health and strength and Ragenstein, who is also exiled for killing someone in a duel, is sent on a mission to redeem himself and the arrival of Diminey is essential to his plans. He plots Diminey's murder and returns to England, as a rich and successful reformed aristocrat, taking his place at the heart of English society where he can report back to his German masters on the English attitude to the possibility of war between the two countries.
But his disguise is in danger when dining at a restaurant he is approached by Princess Eiderstrom, his former lover, who has recognised him:
'Her red gold hair gleamed beneath her black hat. She was tall, a Grecian type of figure, large without being course, majestic though still young. She carried a little dog under one arm and a plain black silk bag, on which there was a coronet in platinum and diamonds in the other hand.
"You mean to deny that you are Leopold von Ragenstein? You do not know me?"
"Madame" he answered "It is not my great pleasure. I am Everard Diminey"
But she is not fooled and he realises his disguise is in danger.
OK not saying any more. Just to say that the author who died in 1946 was one of the most popular and successful writers of spy fiction in the early twentieth century and was known in his time as the Prince of Storytellers. He wrote over 100 novels of which The Great Impersonation has always been the most acclaimed.
on 25 December 2015
Written in the 1920s, this mystery/espionage story about a plot for an English aristocratic ne'er-do-well to be impersonated by a ruthless German spy in the run-up to WWI is a classic of its kind. Very well written, though somewhat old fashioned in style, it presents a fascinating kaleidoscope of characters, lots of Georgian upper-class atmosphere, and a high level of interest-maintaining suspense. People who like older suspense novels like The Thirty Nine Steps or British Golden Age (1920s-1930s) detective stories will be glad they found this book. It's been made into a film at least twice -- I haven't seen either of them, but they are reputed to be not very good, which is a shame, since the book could be the basis of a terrific movie or TV mini-series if it were done right. It's available in various editions.