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Book review: Nucleus by Rory Clements

Nucleus by Rory Clements
Nucleus by Rory Clements
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It’s 1939 and maverick professor Tom Wilde is in a race against time to save the world from a deadly threat.

The Nazis are on the verge of building a nuclear ‘superbomb’… can Cambridge scientists beat them to it, or will they fall foul of a ruthless plot to sabotage their work?

Welcome back to the second enthralling book in Rory Clements’ standout historical spy thriller series which began with Corpus and is set in the febrile atmosphere of pre-war Europe when the German military machine was expanding by the day and the freedom of the world teetered on a political precipice.

Award-winning author Clements is best known for his brilliant John Shakespeare Tudor espionage series set at the court of Elizabeth I and currently in development for television by the team behind Poldark and Endeavour.

But now this exciting author has fast forwarded four centuries to bring readers a rollicking, all-action series which seizes on a turbulent period of history for fast-paced international murder mysteries full of menace and intrigue, and starring a fascinating mix of real and fictional characters.

The man of the moment is Tom Wilde, an unconventional, half American, half Irish Cambridge history professor whose speciality is Sir Francis Walsingham and the Elizabethan secret service, and whose loves include motorbiking, boxing, bird-watching… and 20th century espionage.

In June of 1939, England is partying like there is no tomorrow. The gas masks are at the ready but at Cambridge University the May Balls are played out with a frantic intensity, perhaps everyone all too aware that the good times won’t last.

In Europe, the Nazis have invaded Czechoslovakia, and in Germany the persecution of the Jews is now so widespread that desperate Jewish parents are sending their children to safety in Britain aboard the Kindertransport boats and trains.

Closer to home, the IRA’s S-Plan bombing campaign has resulted in more than 100 terrorist outrages around England.

But perhaps the most far-reaching event of all is going largely unreported. In Germany, the eminent nuclear scientist Otto Hahn has produced the first man-made fission and an atomic device is now a very real possibility. The Nazis have set up the Uranverein group of physicists and its task is to build a superbomb.

But the German High Command knows that British and US scientists are also working on creating an atomic bomb and their mission is ‘to find out what they know and then destroy them.’ The atom was first split in 1932 at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory and this where the race for the bomb is likely to be won.

Hitler’s generals need to know all the Cavendish’s secrets because only then will it be safe for Germany to wage war. When one of the Cavendish’s finest brains is murdered, Professor Tom Wilde is once more drawn into an intrigue from which there seems no escape and which could put the future of the world in jeopardy…

Clements hits top gear in this entertaining new outing for the intrepid and unorthodox professor as he pits his brains and brawn against the might of Hitler’s war machine and uncovers treachery from more unexpected quarters.

In trademark Clements style, there are plot strands and twists aplenty as immaculately researched real history and a gripping sense of time and place blend seamlessly with a full-throttle, suspense-packed spy mystery that moves from Washington D.C. and the hallowed halls of Cambridge to German High Command in Berlin and the west coast of Ireland.

Diverse characters like Nazi sympathisers, brave refugee smugglers and a Hollywood actress jostle with scientists, academics and politicians in a pulsating story that brings alive the fraught, paranoid and terrifying months when the world stood on the brink of war.

Dark history with a thrilling fictional edge…

(Zaffre, hardback, £12.99)