Sunday, January 11, 2015

The German Agent: J. Sydney Jones

From the author's blog, Scene of the Crime:
February, 1917. A lone German agent is dispatched to Washington to prevent the British delivering a telegram to President Woodrow Wilson – by any means possible. For this is the Zimmermann telegram: it contains a devastating piece of news which is sure to bring the USA into the war on the side of Britain and her allies.
 Having fought in the trenches himself, Max Volkman knows that America’s involvement will only prolong the slaughter of innocents and is implacable in his determination to kill the British envoy carrying the telegram.

I know far less about World War I than I do about World War II.  The subject matter in this book was very interesting to me. I did enjoy reading about this time period and the specific incident in history that this book is built around (the Zimmerman telegram). The characters including people from all walks of life and pointed up the differences in their lives and views. However I did have some problems with the book.

The characterization is very thin in this novel. The most convincing character is Max Volkman, the German spy dedicating himself to thwarting the delivery of the Zimmerman telegram to the President of the United States. I sympathized with Volkman; his motivation is to prevent the US from joining the war because he does not want to see many, many more people killed or injured if the war stretches out longer and longer.

His search leads him to a well-to-do, well-connected couple in Washington, D.C. The man, Edward Fitzgerald, is older; his much younger wife, Catherine, an amateur photographer, would like to be taken seriously by her husband. She is treated like a child and shielded from his problems. Coincidence brings Volkman and Catherine together more than once. Catherine's motivation and role was not developed enough to be convincing  to me.

The pacing of the novel is very slow in the first half. It improved greatly in the second half, and if I was only reviewing that half of the book, I would be much more enthusiastic.

There are interesting elements along the way. I had the most sympathy with the police inspector in charge of the case. He knows he is in over his head and wants desperately to do a good job, but runs into roadblocks. The doubts and hopes of each of the characters related to the involvement of the US in the war and the horrors of war were described well.

The author also writes a historical mystery series, the Viennese Mystery series, including The Empty Mirror,  Requiem in Vienna,  The Silence,  The Keeper of Hands,  and  A Matter of Breeding.  He has received much praise for that series. Jones lived for many years in Vienna and has written several other books about the city (some of them non-fiction). He also published a stand-alone thriller, Ruin Value: A Mystery of the Third Reich, in 2013. I will be trying that book and one of the Viennese Mysteries.

J. Sydney Jones' article on The Zimmerman Telegram by Barbara Tuchman at the Rap Sheet.

An interview, in which the author discusses his inspiration for writing The German Agent.

Review of The German Agent by J. Kingston Pierce at Kirkus.


Publisher:   Severn House, 2015 (orig. pub. in UK, 2014)
Length:       224 pages
Format:       ebook
Setting:       US, 1914
Genre:        Historical mystery
Source:       Provided by the publisher via NetGalley.


Mac n' Janet said...

Sounds interesting. I knew of the Zimmerman telegraph from reading Barbara Tuchman.

col2910 said...

I read Ruin Value and enjoyed it. I don't think I will try this one TBH as your review is less than glowing. It's not overlong which is a plus point. I hope you like the next one of his that you try a bit better.

Anonymous said...

Tracy - Sorry to hear that this one didn't tick all the boxes for you. Still, it does focus on a fascinating incident at an interesting and critical time in history. Not 100% sure I'll read it, but the topic's really interesting.

TracyK said...

It was interesting, and I knew very little about the Zimmerman telegram, so educational for me.

TracyK said...

The length was a plus, Col, and towards the end it was exciting. But I have heard his other books are better.

TracyK said...

I agree, Margot, very interesting topic. And anything I learn about that period in history is a plus.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Tracy, good choice and review. While the plot sounds familiar, I'm sure the author has handled it well. I haven't read a good WWI novel in years and will keep this in mind.

TracyK said...

Prashant, I do like mysteries set around WWI or WWII. Reading this one inspired me to return to two other series set during WWI (or right after).

Clothes In Books said...

I'd never heard of this author, Tracy, and although the historical aspects sound interesting, and I'd like to read more from that era, I'll wait for something more compelling to turn up.