The Great Impersonation

January 3, 2014

I haven’t read all that many E. Phillips Oppenheim books, but I’ve read The Great Impersonation three times. I worry that no other Oppenheim book will measure up to it, but if none does, that’s okay. I enjoy rereading it even though I know exactly what happens.

Two men meet in German East Africa in, oh, 1912, maybe? One is Sir Everard Dominey, self-exiled from England and steadily drinking himself to death during and in between a succession of hunting expeditions. Then there’s Leopold von Ragastein, exiled to Africa by the Kaiser after killing his lover’s husband, but doing his best to make himself useful to his country while he’s there. And he knows another assignment is coming to him soon. Dominey and von Ragastein are lookalikes, which offers von Ragastein the perfect opportunity to establish himself in England, as he’s been instructed to do.

The Sir Everard Dominey who arrives in London some months later has no real trouble establishing himself and claiming his property — even his meetings with his half-insane wife go more smoothly than anticipated. But there are also questions, and it’s interesting to watch him deal with people having a hard time recognizing him, or commenting on how much he’s changed. And then he’s got his instructions from his German handler, and the Hungarian princess who insists on recognizing him as von Ragastein.

The spy plot is given approximately the same amount of weight as the romance plot, which revolves around Dominey’s wife and the guy Dominey may or may not have killed before he left for Africa. There’s a sort of Mrs. Danvers-ish character, and Lady Dominey herself is delightful, although the number of times she was described as childlike made me a little uncomfortable.

So, you know. There’s a lot going on. And pretty much all of it is great. Also, I can’t think of any plot threads that are left hanging. I just really, really like this book, for whatever reason. I don’t even care that Oppenheim doesn’t have a sense of humor.



  1. Oh, for heaven’s sake—I may have to read this! Great

    • You should! It’s distilled WWI spy novel fun.

  2. Well I sure can’t resist a half-insane wife!

    • I kind of wish she was more insane, actually? But she has to get better in the end, so she’s sort of at a disadvantage, as far as insanity is concerned.

  3. I can’t resist a lookalike plot.

    • Lookalike plots are awesome, especialy when the people are totally unrelated to each other.

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