The Suicide Club

Written by Andrew Williams

Review written by Philip Gooden

His historical novels include the Nick Revill series, set in Elizabethan London, a Victorian sequence, and a series of Chaucer mysteries, now in in e-books.

The Suicide Club
Harper Collins
RRP: £18.99
Released: November 6, 2014

Andrew Williams is a very accomplished historical thriller writer, whose subjects have ranged from tsarist Russia to the battle against the U-boats.

In The Suicide Club he returns to the World War One setting of his last book, The Poison Tide, and to the world of espionage. This area tends to be overlooked in WWI historical fact and fiction, with their concentration on the murderous slog of trench warfare, so it is almost a surprise to see how intense was the war being waged on other fronts.

And it’s not only the underground war of resistance in the occupied Belgium but also the internal battle for influence being fought between different factions in the British army and the newly formed intelligence unit under Captain Cumming, or ‘C’ (aka M). Cumming is one of several real-life characters, along with Field Marshal Haig and Prime Minister Lloyd George.

The central character of The Suicide Club is Alexander Innes, soldier turned spy and known as Lazarus or Agent L because of his lucky survival in the trenches - even if he remains haunted by his experience. After a dramatic prologue in which he escapes across the border from Belgium into neutral Holland, Innes is sent by C to join Haig’s staff in France, not so much to spy on the enemy as to spy on the army’s own intelligence operations. These include sending ill-equipped agents across the lines by balloon - the suicide club - and relying on information from very suspect sources inside German-held territory. The year is 1917 and the war at a deadlock with every advance followed by a setback. Yet the official line, supported by intelligence reports, is that the enemy is on the brink of defeat. Are the generals being told the truth  -  or merely what they want to hear? Innes sets out to discover the reliability of the secret sources, and in particular of a mysterious agent known as Faust. This involves a dangerous return to Belgium, and the port city of Antwerp where Faust is based.          

The Suicide Club is absolutely convincing in its depiction of the spy world, and in its creation of the honourable and troubled figure of Innes. With a touch of John Buchan, who is referred to a couple of times, Andrew Williams again shows himself to be a meticulous and compelling thriller writer.  

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