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The Great Impersonation (1920)

de E. Phillips Oppenheim

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Purchase one of 1st World Library's Classic Books and help support our free internet library of downloadable eBooks. Visit us online at www.1stWorldLibrary.ORG - - 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. It developed the next morning, when he found himself for the first time for many months on the truckle bed, between linen sheets, with a cool, bamboo-twisted roof between him and the relentless sun. He raised himself a little in the bed. "Where the mischief am I?" he demanded. A black boy, seated cross-legged in the entrance of the banda, rose to his feet, mumbled something and disappeared. In a few moments the tall, slim figure of a European, in spotless white riding clothes, stooped down and came over to Dominey's side.… (més)
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Great read. Nice twist at the close ( )
  jimgosailing | Nov 18, 2021 |
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. ( )
1 vota 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. ( )
1 vota Liz1564 | Oct 6, 2016 |
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E. Phillips Oppenheimautor primaritotes les edicionscalculat
Noble, PeterNarradorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
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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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Purchase one of 1st World Library's Classic Books and help support our free internet library of downloadable eBooks. Visit us online at www.1stWorldLibrary.ORG - - 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. It developed the next morning, when he found himself for the first time for many months on the truckle bed, between linen sheets, with a cool, bamboo-twisted roof between him and the relentless sun. He raised himself a little in the bed. "Where the mischief am I?" he demanded. A black boy, seated cross-legged in the entrance of the banda, rose to his feet, mumbled something and disappeared. In a few moments the tall, slim figure of a European, in spotless white riding clothes, stooped down and came over to Dominey's side.

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