Friday, 13 February 2015

Forgotten Book - The Great Impersonation

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.



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14 comments:

Rick Ollerman said...

Love Oppenheim. Stark House Press has some of his shorter pieces out in trade paperback collections, as well as two very rare novels. Never read an Oppy I didn't like

Val , Kate, The Cute Kitten ,Razzy, Kepsey,Darwin ,Charon and Echo. said...

I remember finding E. Phillips Oppenheim in second hand book stores long ago but now you have prompted me to search him out again. Thank you!
I love that such books are being republished (but must confess I also love that a nice selection are available at project gutenberg)

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Another one of those titles in the "seen the movie, never read the book" category - thanks Martin, well worth knowing there is a worthy new edition available.

joan.kyler said...

I read The Great Impersonation back in 1979. I don't remember much about it, but I do remember that I liked it very much. Maybe it's time for a re-read.

Lewis said...

I hope I can find a copy of The Spy's Bedside Book. You've piqued my interest.

I wonder if you will have time to do a more focused spy-novel posting in which you write about your favorite authors and titles. Many of your readers/followers would be most interested in your selections.

Martin Edwards said...

Rick, thanks - high praise indeed!

Martin Edwards said...

Val and co, good to hear from you. And I've been known to study Project G too!

Martin Edwards said...

Sergio, I haven't seen the movie - was it good?

Martin Edwards said...

Joan - I certainly enjoyed it. More than I expected to enjoy it, to be totally honest. A good thriller

Martin Edwards said...

Lewis, I can definitely recommend the Greenes' anthology.
I will also bear in mind your suggestion, which I'd like to take up. But I need to do a bit more readiing first, I think!

Clothes In Books said...

I read this and blogged on it a year or so ago - I thought it was ludicrous, but great fun and also very funny - sometimes intentionally and sometimes not. I have a soft spot for it, and would read another by him.

Lucy R. Fisher said...

I loved The Yellow Crayon and Aaron Rodd - read many years ago. At the moment I am reading every Edgar Wallace J.G. Reeder story I can get my hands on. Would love to know your opinion. I'm sure these tales reflect popular theatre of the day - melodrama didn't die in 1900!

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Moira, the BL have published another of EPO's spy novels, The Spy Paramount, although I did prefer The Great Impersonatio. And I'm interested in the very positive response to EPO in comments on the blog and on Facebook.

Martin Edwards said...

Lucy, nice to hear from you. I like Reeder, and I'm old enough to remember (dimly) Hugh Burden playing him very well on TV. I've included a Reeder story in a forthcomig BL anthology. A good character. I haven't read the two Oppenheims you mention, though.