Sometimes a book attains added significance, not on its own merits, but because of its time and place.
That’s the case with E. Phillips Oppenheim’s Envoy Extraordinary. A pretty good thriller in its own right, its historical context adds a weird poignancy to the whole exercise.
The hero is Ronald Matresser, an English nobleman in the 1930s best known as a big game hunter. Few people are aware that he has been serving as a government agent in his travels, reporting on conditions in various hot spots. Now he has announced he’s settling down to take up his ancestral responsibilities in his home county and in Parliament.
But one night, during a powerful storm, a man is murdered bringing a message to Ronald’s palatial home. The same night a mysterious Dutch nobleman brings his yacht into the nearby port, despite the weather. The Dutchman, a large and intimidating man, pushes his way into Ronald’s social circle, and nearly murders Ronald and the Austrian woman he’s falling in love with, during a hunting party. Ronald soon realizes that the Dutchman is trying to disrupt his participation in an upcoming European peace conference.
Envoy Extraordinary is a book full of ironies. One assumes that people of good will, in those unsettled days, were hoping and working to find a way to avert the tragedies they could see coming (much as in our own time). Author Oppenheim (whose name, after all, was German) imagines a situation where the dictator of Germany (who appears in this book under a disguised name) was a genuine patriot, in failing health and willing to barter power of which he’s grown weary for the return of Germany’s colonies. An era of peace and stability is possible, if only the Dutchman can be stopped…
In light of actual events, it’s hard to read this book without a sad smile.
Still, it’s a good story, and worth reading on its own merits.