A freelance spy saves Europe from another disastrous world war in this sober-sided whimsy Oppenheim (1866-1946) originally published in 1935.
Moments after accepting an unspecified commission from Italy’s Gen. Berati, Maj. Martin Fawley finds himself pursuing a woman who just tried to kill his new employer. Fawley’s initial charge turns out to be examining the armaments he finds just over Italy’s border with France and reporting what he finds. But the would-be assassin, a distant relative of the general’s wife named Princess Elida di Rezco di Vasena, clearly has ideas of her own about the fate of nations. So in fact does Fawley, who allows himself to be drawn into an internal political struggle between millionaire German industrialist Adolf Krust and the fascists behind the rise of Heinrich Behrling before ending up in London, where his kid brother, Micky, mistaken for him, is attacked and nearly killed. None of this extracurricular activity sits well with the general’s secretary, Prince Pietro Patoni, who tracks Fawley to London and discovers Fawley’s frenemy Elida in his hotel room. He demands Fawley’s return to Italy in no uncertain terms. Not so, declaims Fawley, who reveals that he serves a higher calling than any master: the sacred cause of peace. And indeed, if British Prime Minister Willoughby Johns is correct, Fawley is the one person most likely to prevent the outbreak of war. Does any of this sound familiar?
Too vapidly idealistic to deliver reliable entertainment. But readers who first came in from the cold with Ian Fleming and John le Carré will find Fawley a fascinating transitional figure between the old order and the contemporary freelance spies who serve no interests but their own.