A historical novel that dramatizes the infiltration of Canada and the United States by German agents in advance of World War I.
In 1911, Kaiser Wilhelm II is increasingly certain that war is in his empire’s proximate future, so he begins to make early preparations. He eyes North America as a good place to start, especially because he’s resentful of the United States’ rising economic influence in South America and the Pacific. He tasks one of his closest confidants to be his personal spy on the continent, with a mission to create civil unrest, disseminate false information, gather intelligence, and distract Canadian and American authorities from the tumult in Europe. That spy—who goes by many aliases, but “William Johnson,” his British identity, is the one he uses most frequently—is the novel’s main character, and the bulk of the tale is told from his first-person perspective. He’s assigned a dizzying array of missions which take him on a tour of the Americas—including cities such as Montreal, Toronto, New York, Boston, Seattle, and others—sometimes linking up with other plots organized by the Kaiser from afar. Debut author Kane ingeniously appropriates actual history in his revisionist interpretation; for example, in real life, the famous Halifax explosion, caused by the collision of two massive vessels, was falsely rumored to be the work of German agents; here, it’s retold as an attack that William arranges. The author’s scholarly rigor and breadth are extraordinary throughout, and he also offers the perspectives of Canadian and British authorities, often expressed through various official memorandums. However, the overall plot lacks focus and can be exasperatingly difficult to follow; Kane shifts quickly and often sloppily from first- to third-person narration and buries readers under a mountain of bewildering detail. Also, the dialogue is tinny, melodramatic, and riddled with repeated clichés: “The plot thickens!”
A historically intriguing premise undermined by undisciplined storytelling.