Debut thriller, mining the history of the British Free Corps, a regiment of English soldiers that fought for Hitler, stars a British secret agent who turns traitor to save his wife.
Captured while fighting with partisans in Crete, John Lockhart is offered a deal: if he spies on his former comrades, the life of his wife Anna, prisoner in a concentration camp, will be secure. He agrees, intending to feed the Nazis false information, but only succeeds in getting his Cretan band of fighters killed. A series of fishy career decisions follows. Time and again, Lockhart elects to serve the Germans, excusing himself by deciding he’ll be better able to spy on them. Or perhaps it’s to protect his wife. Or perhaps (the reader may be excused for thinking) it’s because he will be shot otherwise. The story is largely taken up by Lockhart’s agonizing over these decisions, which culminate in his accepting the command of the British Free Corps, with the rank of Hauptsturmführer. Along the way, he learns that the Germans are manufacturing nerve gas, which they plan to use in rockets aimed at London. With the help of Leni, a Nazi hooker with a heart of gold, he foils that plan. He remains, though, sadly ineffectual. Information is obtained mainly by dumb luck. Lockhart’s spycraft reaches the dizzying heights of advising that a creaky door will make less noise if it’s shut rapidly. The narrative cuts away periodically to the present day, where John’s daughter Amy is excavating her father’s past, seeking to prove that he isn’t really a traitor. In these sections, as in Lockhart’s musings about his wife, the sentimentality reaches fever pitch while the action grinds to a halt. It also cuts away to Anna in her camp, and to the past of one of the British fascists, piling on the pages without adding much interest.
Lack of imagination dooms a potentially fascinating subject, in a disappointing first from British journalist Walters.