‘Hitler spy novel that came to me in a dream’
Bestselling author Rory Clements’ new Second World War spy thriller delves into Hitler’s secret life and a devastating weapon not even he knows about.
Set against a backdrop of Cambridge University, the main character is Tom Wilde, a history professor turned spy, who is tasked with a dangerous mission to retrieve a package that the Allies believe could bring about the downfall of the Nazis.
Prof Wilde is put in a dangerous and difficult position of taking this weapon right from under the Nazis and bringing it back to England while putting him in an impossible moral dilemma.
Rory says: “Tom is recruited by the the COI (Coordinator of Information), which was the forerunner of the OSS and CIA and in 1941 was the newly-formed American secret service, and he is asked to go to Germany to get a package for them.
“He can travel there because he is an American and America hasn’t joined the war at this point. And he finds the package he is supposed to retrieve, but it is not as easy to get out as he imagined. Soon he
regrets being involved because he disagrees with the Allies’ plans to use the weapon.”
Mixing historical fact with political intrigue, the novel takes real figures from history. It looks at the possible fallout when the Allies discover a secret that could change the course of the war.
Rory says: “The story is based on a true event in Hitler’s past and it involves the women in his life. He had a very strange relationship with women. He could be incredibly charming – it seems unlikely doesn’t it, the man you see ranting on TV? But he actually liked to entertain them in his Munich flat and give them tea and cakes – he liked the pink-topped cakes – and sent orchids to the wives of his favoured senior Nazis.
“He understood that women in Germany were incredibly powerful at the time because women had the vote. He had been voted in largely by women because there were far more women in Germany as two million German men had died in the First World War.”
Hitler became involved with many women over the years and, according to Rory, “his later years are absolutely littered with the corpses or attempted suicides of five women”.
These included Geli Raubal, his niece, who shot herself, as did Eva Braun and Unity Mitford. Another woman threw herself out of a window and another tried to strangle herself.
“There’s no doubt, whatever you think about Hitler and I despise him, that he definitely had some dark charisma that meant women became fascinated by him.
“It’s incredibly strange. The thing about charisma is it doesn’t necessarily come with goodness.”
After researching Hitler’s life for his earlier Tom Wilde novels, Rory says the idea for this story came to him in a dream.
“I woke up in the morning with this idea fully formed in my mind for this story. I thought it was a really good story and fortunately my publisher liked the idea because it is really plausible.”
This is the fifth outing for Rory’s character, Tom Wilde, and he says he came to write the series thanks to his enduring interest in the Nazis and spycraft.
“There is still a strange fascination for Hitler and the Nazi years, I think you are just still so appalled that such things could happen. I was about 12 when I first discovered the Holocaust and I came across a book called The Scourge of the Swastika, which despite its name is actually quite a scholarly book by one of the prosecutors at the Nuremberg trials.
“I had no idea about that. I didn’t know people in the world could be so awful and I was reading this book and my mother found it and confiscated it from me. I think it was hushed up in those days. So I have always been interested in it and you read it, mouth open, appalled that humanity could descend to such depravity.”
He also enjoyed spy thrillers in his youth and from researching his John Shakespeare novels set during the Elizabethan era, he knew a great deal about Sir Francis Walsingham, founder of England’s secret services.
He adds that Tom Wilde was partly based on Conyers Read, one of the founders of the CIA and, coincidentally, the biographer of Francis Walsingham, the 16th century spy.
“I know a lot about the 16th century and Francis Walsingham and it made sense that Tom would be inspired by his work on Walsingham and his tradecraft because a lot of it hadn’t changed.
“The reason we beat the Spanish in the 16th century was that we had greater sea powers than them and had a greater secret service than them. The reasons we were so strong against Germany was we had the biggest navy in the world but we also had the most effective secret service in the world at a
time when America didn’t have a secret service and the Germans did have one, but it didn’t work in the same way.
“The events of this book definitely could have happened. When you read the true stories of life in the Second World War, some are really stranger than fiction. It could have easily gone the other way with the war. If Hitler had pushed on with the invasion of England, if we hadn’t joined up with the Russians to defeat Hitler... it could have happened.
“My story is more of a secret history – something that could have happened and you wouldn’t know about it.”
Now Rory’s own son is studying maths at Cambridge, giving the writer plenty of time to visit the city, having retired from national newspaper journalism in 2007.
“Cambridge is a wonderful place. I just love it. I took my son when he was 10 and he made up his mind then and there that he was going to go to university there. I quite envy him really, I wish I had gone there too, if I had been more sensible.”
Hitler’s Secret is out now.
More by this authorAlex Spencer