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Rory Clement’s Cambridge spy Tom Wilde returns in The English Führer

The English Führer is the latest novel from Sunday Times bestselling author Rory Clements.

“Hitler is dead. A new threat is born...” states the book’s press release, by way of an introduction, adding that in autumn 1945, “off the coast of England, a Japanese submarine surfaces, unloads its mysterious cargo, then blows itself to pieces”.

Rory Clements
Rory Clements

The novel’s protagonist is former spy Professor Tom Wilde, who is enjoying peacetime in Cambridge – until a call from senior MI5 boss Lord Templeman brings him out of retirement.

The English Führer is the seventh book to feature Wilde. “It’s a novel, not a history book, but there are some real people in there, there is some real history in there,” explains Rory, a former Fleet Street journalist who now lives in Norfolk.

“It talks about Unit 731, which was a real place. There were a lot of fascists around Britain in the 1940s, after the war. They’d been interned for the first three or four years of the war and they’d been released and still had hopes of a fascist Britain.

“I sort of envisaged somebody making use of this to gain power in this country, and have contact with the Japanese with their Unit 731 biological warfare operation.”

Rory – hailed as the “master of the wartime thriller” by the Financial Times – is also responsible for the John Shakespeare series of historical thrillers set in the late Elizabethan era and notes that he loves alternative histories.

“I really enjoyed Robert Harris’ Fatherland,” he says, adding that The English Führer is “slightly different” to an alternative history. “With something like Fatherland you had a complete rewriting of history, but my books are not rewritings of history – they’re things that could have happened that you didn’t know about.”

The English Führer
The English Führer

All of Rory’s Tom Wilde novels are centred around Cambridge. “They all start in Cambridge, even if they don’t end in Cambridge. That is where he’s based,” notes the award-winning novelist, who regularly visits the city where his son went to university.

“That is where he’s based. The whole thing started with Cambridge and Tom Wilde and it’s central to it – it’s like a character in the book. I think Cambridge back then was very different to the Cambridge we know now. It was a much smaller place, the university was completely different.

“There were very few women by comparison to men. It was smoky, it was like a market town with the university tacked on, and now it’s a much bigger place. There are science parks and a very thriving industry generally, and it’s very expensive to live...”

Rory, who has travelled to Germany a number of times to source information for his Tom Wilde books, says each novel takes him about 18 months “to come up with an idea, research it, write it...”.

He adds: “The first person to see it is always my wife, and then my agent, then to my editor, then the editing process, then the copy editing process, then the proof reading, then finally, usually in January, the book comes out.”

[Read more: ‘Hitler spy novel that came to me in a dream’]

At present, the author is about “three quarters of the way” through his next tome. “It isn’t a follow-up, it’s not Tom Wilde, it’s something completely different,” he reveals. “It’s a standalone, which I haven’t done before. Well, I think it’s a standalone – you never know what might happen, do you?

“I was given the permission to do it by my publisher so I jumped at the chance. It’s nice to have a break. I’ve written seven John Shakespeare books and I’ve written seven Tom Wilde books so far, and I will go back to Tom Wilde on my next book, but after you’ve written over a million words on one character you probably think it’s time for a bit of a rest.”

Both the Tom Wilde and the John Shakespeare series of books have been awarded prizes by the Crime Writers’ Association – Revenger in 2010 and Nucleus in 2018 won the coveted Historical Dagger.

For more on Rory, go to roryclements.co.uk. The English Führer is out now, published by Zaffre.

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