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.