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Spy Thriller Review – The Great Impersonation

The Great Impersonation by E. Phillips Oppenheim

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

In the 1970s and 1980s Dover Publications re-issued many forgotten classics in the supernatural and mystery genre, such as The Great Impersonation by prolific but now neglected E. Phillip Oppenheim. Readers who like Agatha Christie will get a charge out this old-timey spy thriller set on the eve of, but in fact written right after, WWI.

Scenes of cocktail bashes, shooting parties, and weekends in country houses warm us readers up with a familiarity we’ve gotten from Downton Abbey.

The characters are well-drawn: members of the English landowning class, German and Hungarian royalty, and their hired help. Particularly vivid were the German spymaster and a Hungarian princess, described, in terms not exactly kosher today, as “an impulsive, a passionate, a distinctly primitive woman, with a good deal of the wild animal in her still.”

The quaint prose generally balances the old-fashioned marker that characters rarely “say” anything but “agree,” “remark,” “declare,” “reply,” “protest,” “admit,” “pronounce,” “complain,” and on and on until the reader shakes her head in bafflement that English has so many verbs for “to express orally in words.”

The unfolding of the plot is steady, simple, and full of plausible surprises even if the premise (pulling off an impersonation) is inevitably far-fetched. What keeps both the writer on his toes and readers in suspense is that so many other characters are doubtful of the impersonator and say so aloud.

 

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