Tag Archives: E. Phillips Oppenheim

‘The Glenlitton Murder,’ by E. Phillips Oppenheim

The Glenlitton Mystery

E. Phillips Oppenheim has become a fallback author for me. An English writer who flourished in the 1930s, he wrote mysteries and thrillers a little more sophisticated (in my view) than comparable stuff of the period. I find his stories a little palid compared to the contemporary kind, but they keep my interest, and I can get them cheap for my Kindle.

The Glenlitton Murder is pretty standard Oppenheim. The main character is a member of the English nobility – Andrew, Marquis Glenlitton. When we meet him he’s hosting a party at Glenlitton, his country estate, introducing to his friends his new wife, Felice, who is half French and half Russian. During the evening, Felice retires to her bedchamber, claiming a headache. She sleeps, and is awakened by movement in her room, and a gunshot. A male guest, who has entered the room, is killed. The police quickly assume that the burglar must have killed the man. But Felice is not telling everything she knows…

No great pulse-pounder, The Glenlitton Murder is a serviceable mystery novel to pass the time. Felice is the old-fashioned kind of female character, kind of clinging and helpless by our standards. Theoretically that ought to please me, but even I found her a tad soppy.

Recommended for those who like the older approach to storytelling. Nothing objectionable here.

‘Envoy Extraordinary,’ by E. Phillips Oppenheim

Envoy Extraordinary

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.

‘Last Train Out,’ by E. Phillips Oppenheim

In the wake of my enjoyment of E. Phillips Oppenheim’s The Great Impersonation (reviewed a few inches below), I bought another of his vintage thrillers, Last Train Out. I enjoyed it quite a lot. Unlike Impersonation, which came near the beginning of the author’s career and involved the beginnings of World War I, this book was written about 1940 and is set at the start of World War II. I’m happy to report that the author’s eye had not dimmed, nor his natural force abated in the intervening years.

Charles Mildenhall is a young Englishman in the diplomatic service. He’s been found to be valuable in troubleshooting crises, so he flits about and puts his hand in wherever trouble pops up. In that capacity he enters Vienna around 1938. He makes the acquaintance of Leopold Benjamin, an immensely wealthy and much respected Jewish banker. Charles is invited to a dinner party at Benjamin’s palatial home, hoping to get a look at Mr. Benjamin’s fabled art collection. Alas, he is told that it’s not available to view at the moment. Mr. Benjamin’s American secretary, Patricia Grey, explains to him, confidentially, that efforts are being made to get the treasures out of the country before the Nazis march in. He almost meets Marius Blute, a mysterious international dabbler who is assisting Mr. Leopold.

Returning to Vienna a few months later, Charles finds both Patricia and Marius in desperate conditions, penniless, cut off, and with their job unfinished. Charles immediately puts his own funds at their disposal, and happily volunteers (partly because he’s fallen in love with Patricia) to assist them in the desperate enterprise of getting the paintings, packed in coffins, to Switzerland by rail. Both Germans and organized crime figures are hot on their heels.

The realism level isn’t very high, but it never is for this generation of thriller (come to think of it, all thrillers are unrealistic. Different generations just demand different kinds of realism in different subject areas). The final resolution might be seen as a kind of deus ex machina, but it’s been fairly set up by the author, though it’s perhaps a little far-fetched. (But certainly no more far-fetched than Bruce Willis driving a truck into a helicopter in flight.)

It should also be noted, for those who care, that the two main female characters in this book are more active and assertive than the women in his earlier work.

Pretty high quality fun. Nothing objectionable. Recommended.

‘The Great Impersonation,’ by E. Phillips Oppenheim

Reader Nigel Ray recommended E. Phillips Oppenheim to me as an author, so I downloaded The Great Impersonation. I was pleased. This is an author I mean to get to know better.

Oppenheim had a long career, spanning the first half of the 20th Century. I’m embarrassed to have been only vaguely aware of him, because he was very good at his craft.

In The Great Impersonation, we follow Leopold Von Ragastein, a German agent operating just before World War I. He can easily pass as an Englishman, since he spent many years there and was educated at Oxford. While there he met Sir Everard Dominey, a disreputable and alcoholic young Englishman who, everyone noticed, looked enough like Leopold to be his twin. A chance meeting in Africa years later gives Leopold a perfect opportunity. All he has to do is dispose of the real Everard, assume his identity, and return to England (financed by German gold) to pay his debts and resume his place in society.

Most people are taken in. The only two people in England who seriously doubt his identity are a jealous old lover – who may mean real danger – and Everard’s wife. She went mad on a terrible night when Everard (she believes) killed a man who was obsessed with her. But that has nothing to do with Leopold, she insists, as he is not really her husband.

Leopold is an interesting character – a patriot and a man of honor torn between feeling and duty as Lady Dominey gradually regains her faculties, and he comes to love her.

The climax offers a very neat plot twist.

Although The Great Impersonation is technically a thriller, there’s actually not much action in it. And that’s fine with me – the drama is in the increasing tension between Leopold’s conflicting duties of honor and love. Modern readers will probably find the main female characters stereotyped, especially the childlike Lady Dominey, but I put up with that sort of thing just fine myself.

Well written, well plotted, and morally unobjectionable, The Great Impersonation was a pleasure to read. Recommended.