The Double TraitorDecember 31, 2013
Francis Norgate is a young diplomat, recently assigned to Berlin. He’s sent home again after only a month, having offended one of the Kaiser’s family members, which sucks for him professionally, but turns out to be for the best. On the way home, Norgate encounters Mr. Selingmann, a German businessman, and becomes suspicious of him. But neither his bosses, his friend who’s a cabinet minister, or Scotland Yard will pay any attention, so he singlehandedly sets himself up as a double agent and does what he can to prepare for war.
The Double Traitor isn’t as twisty as the other Oppenheim books I’ve read, but it’s suspenseful in a fairly straightforward way, keeping you guessing about whose loyalties lie where. You’re never in doubt of Norgate — which is nice because it allows you to sit back and watch him work — but pretty much everyone else is a bit of a question mark. Mostly this is a novel about how Norgate goes about being a double agent, which it turns out is a thing he’s mostly pretty well fitted for. He’s also ridiculously open at times — I love that he’s constantly going to his friend Hebbelthwaite and saying, “So, this is what I’ve been getting up to lately in my capacity as a German spy,” but…well, really?
There were things that I found disatisfying, and threads that were dropped and never picked up again. I never figured out exactly what happened with the suicide of one of the characters early in the book, and I objected pretty strongly to the way Oppenheim dealt with Norgate’s manservant. But mostly this was almost as much fun as I’ve ever had with an Oppenheim novel. It helps that the other Oppenhem novel it most resembles is my favorite, The Great Impersonation (which I’ve apparently never written about? I could have sworn I had). Both are about spies and impending war, and a particular type of young man working alone for his country. I like Oppenheim less when he does financial conspiracies and politics and people who are totally self-absorbed. But this has only a little bit of those, and lots of patriotic fervor and a young couple who work well together and almost an excess of spies. It’s pretty cool.