by Rory Clements

Dystopias and alternate histories are all the rage, thanks in part to Donald Trump. While 1984 has returned to bestseller lists, counterfactual epics such as The Man in the High Castle have transferred from page to screen. Corpus, by British novelist Rory Clements, fits the current climate perfectly, offering a pre-second-world-war conspiracy thriller based in fact but marinated in fiction. It is 1936 and Tom Wilde is a Cambridge historian whose specialty – Elizabethan politics – helps him navigate college life and hints at Clements’ previous “John Shakespeare” thrillers. Wilde’s route into international affairs is unlikely, to say the least: his scatty, poetic neighbour, Lydia Morris. After Lydia’s best friend is found dead in Berlin in suspicious circumstances, circumstances become even more suspicious when a double murder follows. In Clements’ plot, rumours, secrets and lies rub against each other: Edward VIII’s desire to abdicate, covert support for Hitler in the highest reaches of the British establishment, world-altering scientific breakthroughs. Clements spins his wheels within wheels to enjoyable if mind-boggling effect. Pay attention if you don’t want to get lost: it works for thrillers and American presidents alike.