A posh party to celebrate Albert Campion’s 70th birthday offers the occasion for the guest of honor to reminisce at length about his hush-hush service during World War II.
Even Campion recognizes that he’s not the obvious choice to get smuggled into occupied France for reasons to be disclosed later. But his department head, L.C. “Elsie” Corkran, presses him to accept the mission, and soon he’s gamely attempting to establish his bona fides as Canadian diplomat Jean-Baptiste Hamelin. Unimpressed, a pair of thugs working for Marseilles gang leader Paul Pirani waylay him and begin to beat him up until he’s rescued by his contact, Freiherr Robert von Ringer, the enigmatic German agent who asked the Brits for cooperation. The target is Nathan Lunel, a Jewish banker who was involved in an extensive web of currency transfers before he was arrested and sent to the concentration camp at Les Milles. The task is to get custody of Lunel’s detailed financial records. The big questions are (1) how Campion, even carrying the credentials of Ringer warehouseman Didier Ducret, will ever be able to infiltrate the camp so that he can negotiate with Lunel, and (2) why Robert wants to betray his country and work with the English in the first place. The first of these turns out to not be a serious problem, and the second is eventually brushed aside so that Ripley (Mr Campion’s Abdication, 2017, etc.) can concentrate on what really interests him: an attack on one of Campion’s birthday guests, many of whom turn out to have close ties to the story he’s telling, by another with the knife that should have been reserved for cutting the cake.
A rum brew alternating between arch 1970 chatter and the hero’s melodramatic first-person account of his wartime adventures that, despite an unexpected attack of birthday-party violence, never quite jells.