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The Great Impersonation by E. Phillips…

The Great Impersonation (1920)

by E. Phillips Oppenheim

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
I've known that E. Phillips Oppenheim was a very popular author during the early years of the 20th century. We had, or used to have, one of his books lying around the house for as long as I can remember. But, I've never read him before. Until now, that is. Although this book didn't capture my fancy all that much, I think it was more the subject matter than the writing and plotting. So, I'll likely try Oppenheim again.

This book has some intriguing ideas, but in the end, I don't think they really make sense. People end up doing things that are so improbable, given their previous histories, that what happens in the book could never happen in real life. I like plot twists, but they must make some vague kind of sense.

So anyway shortly before the beginning of World War I, we have a dissolute English baron, on the verge of starvation and death, wander into the camp of a German baron. They're in East Africa. It turns out the two know each other. They'd gone through public school and Oxford together. They also resemble each other rather amazingly. If you didn't know better, you'd mistake one for the other, at least by looks. Their personalities are sufficiently different, one could tell the one from the other in a twinkling of an eye (to borrow an inapt Biblical expression).

Well, the German baron gets an idea. Why not kill off the English guy and impersonate him back in England? He'll become a sort of under-cover spy for the Kaiser. He knows the Kaiser is up to no good and is arming so as to extend the German empire across much of Europe, with subsequent inroads into the rich trading areas of Asia. So, it would be most helpful for the fatherland to have an embedded presence among the British ruling class. So, he sends the English baron back into the bush with only whiskey in his water bottles. That should kill him off. And if not, the German baron will follow along in a few days to make sure the Englishman will no longer be able to mess up his plot.

So, then we're off in England where this German baron purports to be the English baron. People are much surprised that he's reformed his dissolute ways, but mostly, he's accepted with open arms, in part because he's paying off all his massive debts. His two main problems are the Hungarian princess who used to be his lover (and the cause of his exile to Africa because he'd killed the princess' husband), and the insane wife of the English baron (who was the cause of the English baron's exile in Africa to escape being killed by his insane wife). The returned English Baron/German spy must act honorably toward both, which means keeping his hands of someone else's wife, especially given that she's insane, and also means keeping his hands off his former lover so as not to blow his cover. Something like that.

Anyway, I won't go on. There are some surprise plot twists that I wouldn't want to spoil. As I said above, it's an intriguing and well written tale, but falls a bit flat at the end because of it's improbability. ( )
  lgpiper | Jun 21, 2019 |
Good deception. Well written. ( )
  rayub | Apr 24, 2018 |
Great ending ( )
  mahallett | Mar 12, 2018 |
This novel was sent to me by the publisher Poisoned Pen Press via NetGalley. It was originally published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1920. Thank you.

Sir Everard Dominey and Baron Leopold von Ragastein are doppelgangers. They could be identical twins, even though one is upper class English and the other upper class German. Not only that, both men lived in the same house at Eton, attended Magdelen and even belonged to the same rowing team. The German speaks English with no accent and Dominey speaks German like a native. But in 1913, the two men have very different lives. At 36, von Ragastein is a highly placed representative of his government in Africa where he travels the continent recruiting allies and training the Africans to fight for Germany in the coming world conflict. Dominey is a dissipated alcoholic wreck who has spent the last ten years in Africa shooting animals and spending down his family fortune. When, nearly dying, Dominey stumbles into von Ragastein’s camp, the plan is hatched. As he become reacquainted with his school friend, von Ragastein realizes that Dominey only needs a little help to put an end to his miserable existence. Ragastein could assume the Englishman’s identity and instill himself in the highest aristocratic and political circles in England, to become Germany’s secret agent in the enemy’s most important enclaves.

So nine months later, healthy and flush with wealth, Dominey presents himself to his astonished solicitors, intent on paying off his debts, restoring his estates, and reclaiming his social and political positions. It appears a foolproof scheme. Everyone seems eager to accept his story of gold mines in Africa finally paying off, especially since he is willing to spend lavishly to “better” Anglo-German relations. He has the ear of the English politicians who are perhaps too loose-lipped about plans for war and are happy to listen to someone who may help to prevent the conflict by diplomatic means.

Unfortunately for his plans, Dominey faces two problems, both of them female. Von Ragastein initially was banished to Africa because of his torrid affair with a married woman. Princess Eiderstrom is in London and immediately recognizes the Englishman as her lover. Though he denies it, she will not be dissuaded and if she is not stopped, she can give away the game. The second problem is the same. Dominey’s wife Rosamund absolutely believes this man is not her husband. Only the fact that she has been insane for 10 years minimizes the damage her statements could cause.

As the man calling himself Everald Dominey walks the tightrope to serve his country, the tension mounts. This part of the novel is a wonderful story and I wish that it could have been expanded to fill the entire book. Unfortunately, the author adds a lengthy subplot which is the essence of Edwardian melodrama. Dominey fled to Africa to escape an unproven murder charge, the alleged killing of a man stalking his wife. When he stumbles out of a cursed wood, the sight of him covered in blood and with a broken arm sends his wife into a mental breakdown. There are ghosts, banchee-like howlings, secret passages, a really wet heroine, and a predictable denouement to this aspect of the book.

So a five-star read is lowered to four stars. Still, this is a really good early novel in the espionage genre. ( )
  Liz1564 | Oct 6, 2016 |
Excellent espionage suspense novel set in the time leading up to WW1.

Two men who look amazingly alike, one German and one English, meet in German East Africa. Which one is it that returns to England as Everard Dominey?? Added to that is the mystery surrounding Dominey's wife and the circumstances which led him to leave England in the first place.

I listened to the LibriVox recording by Tim Weiss which was fine though a tad slow in its pace for my taste. ( )
  leslie.98 | Aug 10, 2016 |
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The trouble from which great events were to come began when Everard Dominey, who had been fighting his way through the scrub for the last three quarters of an hour towards those thin, spiral wisps of smoke, urged his pony to a last despairing effort and came crashing through the great oleander shrub to pitch forward on his head in the little clearing.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0486236072, Paperback)

Oppenheim was a British writer known for his thriller novels. He is credited with writing over 100 novels in suspense, international intrigue, romance, parables, and comedies. His protagonists are known for their love of luxury, gourmet meals, and their enjoyment of criminal

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:18 -0400)

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In this classic espionage thriller, a chance meeting of doppelgngers threatens to plunge Europe into war Crazed with thirst and fever, Everard Dominey staggers out of the jungle and awakens to find himself in German East Africa. His rescuer is Leopold von Ragastein, a colonial governor whose impeccable manners belie nefarious intentions. A loyal servant of the Kaiser, von Ragastein has been looking for a way to sneak into England. Discovering that his face is an exact match for the ailing Englishman's, von Ragastein believes that he has finally found his chance. When the man calling himself Everard Dominey returns home, his loved ones recognize that something about him is different. But with Europe racing toward war and England infiltrated by saboteurs of all stripes, will the truth emerge before it is too late? Full of shocking twists, sinister intrigue, and irresistible romance, The Great Impersonation was a huge bestseller when it was first published in 1920 and is one the most entertaining spy novels of all time. This ebook has been professionally proofread to ensure accuracy and readability on all devices.… (more)

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