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Nucleus by Rory Clements

There is nothing like a good spy thriller and I couldn’t put this book down! Set in England in June 1939, war is imminent in Europe. The plot revolves round Hitler’s fear that scientists in Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory are working on the atomic bomb and the German High Command is determined to unearth its secrets before war is waged. Various top brains are hunted down; the reader is left on tenterhooks as to who is a Nazi sympathiser or traitor right to the end. Added into the mix are German Jews, many of whom have newly escaped to Britain. The central character, Cambridge don Professor Tom Wilde, finds himself investigating various individuals while trying to track down a kidnapped Jewish child.

The characters are well drawn, the plot is tight, and the action is pacy in the way a good thriller should be. Several extra elements particularly interested me: I was unaware of the significant part that the Society of Friends played after Kristallnacht in 1938, in organising the Kindertransport over the next ten months. Bertha Bracey, a devout Quaker, ensured the safety of 10,000 children being escorted to Britain. Another character is also real – Frank Foley, Britain’s Passport Control Officer in Berlin, and MI6’s top spy in the city. He too saved the lives of thousands of Jews. Irish discontent also plays a part in the novel, with IRA activists planting bombs and strongly encouraged by the German authorities who saw this as helping to undermine British morale. I was unaware that 145 explosions happened between January and July, 1939. Finally, concerns around fission and the atomic bomb continue to deeply disturb us. Given its setting in time, this thriller is somewhat timely.

Nucleus was preceded by Corpus and I am delighted to discover that Clements has written a further four books with Tom Wilde as investigator. His latest, The Man in the Bunker, was published in January 2022. More late nights ahead!

Reviewed by a library member.