The British Library has been very active on the publishing front over the past year or so. Quite apart from its Crime Classics series, it has also republished a couple of espionage thrillers by E. Phillips Oppenheim, The Spy Paramount, and The Great Impersonation in another series, British Library Spy Classics. The latter novel is my choice for today's Forgotten Book.
Although I haven't written much about them on this blog, I've always had a soft spot for spy stories. As a schoolboy, I received as a present The Spy's Bedside Book by Hugh and Graham Greene, a wonderful anthology which really fired my interest n the genre. A while later, I became a huge fan of Len Deighton's books, and also had the pleasure of discovering the likes of Eric Ambler and John Le Carre.
I must confess, though, that until this pair of books came out last year, I'd never read E. Phillips Oppenheim. He was, in his day, highly successful, and known as "the Prince of Storytellers", but I doubted whether his work would appeal to me, despite the fact that he evidently led a colourful life. But I can honestly say that I was pleasantly surprised by The Great Impersonation.
This edition benefits from an introduction by Professor Tim Crook, who gives an insightful overview of the author's life and career. He also confirms that the book was originally published in 1920 (the copyright page suggests 1935). The essence of the story is conveyed by the book's title. This is a tale about two men who are lookalikes. One is an English aristocrat, the other is a German baron. When Edward Dominey arrives back in the UK after time spent in Africa, the question arises - is he the man he claims to be, or the agent of a foreign power? Tales of duality always exert a considerable appeal, and this is no exception. This is a story which sold over a million copies, and thanks to the British Library's initiative, I now have a much better understanding of why Oppenheim was so popular in his hey-day.