The Man in the Bunker by Rory Clements: Brutal, menacing, packed with drama and subterfuge - book review -

As a world torn apart by war struggles to pick up the pieces in August of 1945, there are disturbing rumours that Adolf Hitler might still be alive.

The Man in the Bunker by Rory Clements
The Man in the Bunker by Rory Clements

Maverick Cambridge professor and spy Tom Wilde had thought his days of dangerous undercover missions with America’s intelligence service were over… but how can he settle for the peace if the former Führer’s death was just an elaborate hoax?

Former national newspaper journalist Rory Clements is giving the likes of Robert Harris and C.J Sansom a run for their money with his thrilling ‘what if’ historical novels starring a half-American, half-Irish history don braving death and danger to do his bit for peace and freedom.

Not content to rest on his laurels after the outstanding success of his gripping John Shakespeare Tudor espionage series, currently in development for television, Clements has proved to be a consummate novelist of any chosen historical period with his acclaimed Tom Wilde books.

Clements’ work is always underpinned by extensive research and rich period detail, and this mid-20th century series – covering both the war and now its uneasy aftermath – has won an army of fans with its fast-paced international mysteries, full of menace and intrigue, and featuring a stunning mix of real and fictional characters.

Star player is undoubtedly Tom, an unconventional professor whose speciality is Sir Francis Walsingham and the Elizabethan secret service, and whose loves include his wife and young son, motorbiking, boxing, bird-watching … and espionage.

The Man in the Bunker – sixth book in this outstanding series which has included Corpus, Nucleus, Nemesis, Hitler’s Secret and A Prince and A Spy – sweeps us away to the late summer of 1945 when Cambridge is slowly regaining its mellow, peaceful pre-war character and Professor Tom Wilde is preparing for the Michaelmas term ahead.

After three years as a spy with the Office of Strategic Services, America’s wartime intelligence agency, and working with a team of clever, charming and oddball operatives, Tom is ready to put the war behind him and enjoy time with his wife, Lydia, and five-year-old son, Johnny.

But behind the scenes, there are concerns that the peace could once again be shattered. Two OSS operatives, well known to Tom, have been assassinated in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps and fears are growing that Adolf Hitler did not die in his Berlin bunker.

And when the enigmatic Philip Eaton, Tom’s contact man with MI6, knocks on his door, he knows immediately that his war might not yet be over. Although Hitler is said to have killed himself in the bunker, no body was found and many people believe he is alive.

Meanwhile, newspapers are full of stories reporting sightings and theories, and even the Russian leader Stalin, whose own troops captured the bunker, has told American President Truman he believes the former Führer is not dead.

Tom is dispatched to Germany with Lieutenant Mozes Heck, a Dutch Jew who escaped to England in 1940 and joined the British Army. Consumed by a ‘visceral loathing’ of the Nazis because none of his family survived the death camps, Heck is headstrong, reckless but effective under duress.

In Germany, the two operatives find a country in ruins. Millions of refugees and holocaust survivors strive to rebuild their lives in displaced persons camps, and millions of German soldiers and SS men are held captive in primitive conditions in open-air detention centres.

Everywhere, civilians are desperate for food and shelter and no one admits to having voted Nazi, yet many are unrepentant and still fanatical followers of Hitler, their ‘taste for bloodshed’ undiminished.

Day by day, American and British intelligence officers are subjecting senior members of the Nazi regime to gruelling interrogation but it will be up to Tom – who still considers himself more historian than spy – and ruthless, angry, vengeful Nazi hunter Heck to seek out the truth…

Cool-hand academic Tom has to be one of historical fiction’s most charismatic adventurers… as intrepid as he is intellectually gifted, the unorthodox, US-born professor has thankfully acquired an engaging insouciance and British stiff upper lip stoicism which stand him in good stead as he encounters the remaining rump of some of the Nazi regime’s most cunning and ruthless adherents.

And buckle yourself in tightly because this is truly a gripping, white-knuckle ride with Tom – and his loose cannon partner Heck – as we journey across the harsh terrain of the Alps, witness the despair in a displaced persons camp in Bavaria, and share in the hotbed of simmering suspicions, vengeance and dangerous distrust in war-torn, divided Berlin as the two spies dig out the truth about Hitler’s demise.

And as always, Tom must use both his brains and his brawn to outsmart lethal villains and negotiate a path through a tangled web of unresolved secrets, hidden treachery and disaffected Nazi sympathisers in a twisting, turning plot that is as ingenious as it is addictive.

Brutal, menacing, packed with drama and subterfuge, and with a hero spy who always manages to keep his humanity in the face of others’ inhumanity, The Man in the Bunker is fact and fiction, history and mystery at its heart-thumping best, and historical adventure writing of the highest order.

(Zaffre, hardback, £14.99)