Corpus by Rory Clements

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Corpus by Rory Clements

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: The creator of Tudor spy John Shakespeare introduces us to a 1930s professor who falls into the world of murder and espionage. Mix in an abdication crisis and unscrupulous powers and we have a top flight historical thriller on our hands.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: January 2017
Publisher: Zaffre
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1785762611

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A suicidal overdose and the murder of upper class Cecil Langley and his wife are two events that may be unconnected. However this is England in 1936, a magnet for opposing forces and their first moves in preparation for the coming conflict, assisted or prevented by a royal crisis (depending on which side you're on). Cambridge history professor Tom Wilde may fall into the middle of this accidentally to begin with but his curiosity has been piqued enough to ensure he's not walking away.

Rory Clements is best known for his highly acclaimed Elizabethan murder/espionage books featuring John Shakespeare. Now he has another string to his bow in the form of an American professor, although there is a link between the two. Tom Wilde specialises in Elizabethan history with a particular interest in Frances Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth's secretary and one of her more successful spymasters. (Note to budding authors: make your research work doubly hard for you!) The prof therefore has a second hand knowledge of espionage that will come in very handy. That and a line in national neutrality that will come in handy when he seeks to retain a sense of objectivity when all around lose theirs.

The thing I hadn't appreciated before reading this is that the pre-war academic world is as split and turbulent as mainland Europe itself. I knew about the blackshirts and Mosely but that's just a small proportion of the commotion. Communists and fascists fight it out behind the scenes (and sometimes in front of them) left, right and centre as the lines are drawn pro and anti-Hitler. King Edward VIII's forbidden love for the divorcee Mrs Wallis Simpson arrives in the midst of this, playing an interesting and disturbing role.

Meanwhile back at the murders, Rory has been clever. Knowing which side the suspects are on doesn't help deduce the culprit or culprits. As we delve into the activities of the deceased, an entire web emerges which keeps us guessing right into the final, nail-chewing race against time. It's a series so we know John makes it to the end but other lives wobble at the edge of the abyss. Oh yes, fans of Robert Harris are going to love this.

Take for instance Tom's next door neighbour and accomplice, the poet/blue stocking Lydia. Intelligent, impetuous, independent and definitely no-one's token literary female or rescue fodder, she's the person who drags Tom in when her friend Nancy dies of the drug overdose. Nancy was definitely an addict but things just don't add up for Lydia.

The professor and the poet make a great pairing. Both have back stories, dimension and darker moments highlighting their humanity and ensuring they'll never attain super-hero status. Tom is haunted by tragic events; he's widowed and was once the father. Lydia is obviously upset and depressed about her friend but even in her happier moments, she's not a good judge of character.

Intrigue runs through the historically real and historically fictional characters making this unputdownable. We ask questions and change our minds about the answers as revelation replaces revelation. Is Eaton, the personable journalist, hiding something? What the heck is Sophie van Isarbeck up to? (Definitely not a book for the youngsters by the way: whatever it is she's up to comes with an 18 rating!) We may all know how the abdication crisis pans out but what happens to the protagonists of international power betting against each other on the outcome?

Rory provides all anyone would need in an international thriller although I'd advise against reading it late at night. It's not scary, you just aren't going to want to go to bed till you finish it.

(Thank you to the great folks at Zaffre for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: if you'd like to go back to Rory's (and indeed Professor Wilde's) Elizabethan roots we heartily suggest John Shakespeare. If you want to see why people are comparing Mr Clements so favourably with Mr Harris, then try The Fear Index by the aforementioned Mr H. It's a different period but you might also enjoy Hitler's Secret by Rory Clements.

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Buy Corpus by Rory Clements at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Corpus by Rory Clements at


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