King Edward VIII invites Hitler to Britain.
With Wallis as his consort and the idea of abdication circumvented, King Edward VIII is delighted with Chamberlain’s peace accord with the Third Reich. Despite the misgivings of some members of Parliament, he asks Hitler to come to Britain to cement their friendship. SB, head of the Section, a secret-service division, is wary of Hitler and sends undercover agent Marcus Mount to Berlin to learn if the Führer is cozying up to Stalin in preparation for war against England. Mount and his contact, a German spying for the Brits, soon draw the attention of Major Andreas Valk, who has them tailed. The plot finds time for the slapstick collapse of a living-room chair and the attempts to replace it; quality time with Inge and Olga, two good-natured whores working out of the Toledo Club; introductions to a pair of mid-level German agents who go rogue and have to be called off by higher-ups; and much opening and closing of curtains to signal when it’s OK to meet. Valk and his two renegade underlings are sent to London to oversee safety measures for Hitler’s visit and embarrass the Crown by gathering proof of a cabinet minister’s dalliance with a married lady. They do, but not before a German spymaster’s wife avenges her husband’s dalliances by tearing up the Toledo. There’ll be more tailing, murders engineered to look like accidents, suggestions of an attempt on Hitler’s life that feature a book depository and a grassy knoll and, finally, a submarine ride to safety for some lucky souls.
James, who can out-mean the noir-est of the bunch (the Harpur & Iles series), turns puckish here. He has a field day with the psychology of spycraft, from refusing to give a direct answer to a simple question to tailing one’s shadow to turning second-guessing into an art form.