An avid reader, Stephen's knowledge of Crime Fiction is fairly extensive, with The Golden Age is his greatest interest.
Willets’ novel is set in WW2 London with a backdrop of the blackout, the
scarcity of foodstuffs with the constant fear of air raids and fifth
columnists. In amongst all this are the spies working for the enemy. Some are
Nazi sympathizers, others are British haters and others White Russians hoping
Hitler's forces will defeat the Soviet Union.
There are thousands of
people in the country who support the fascist government in Germany; many had
openly shown their support before the German occupation of the Sudetenland.
Now, however, fascist supporters of Herr Hitler have become less obvious, but
are still fermenting trouble and planning revolt. A fifth column is forming
with The British Union, the Right Club, the Link, the Nordic League and the
Anglo-German Fellowship all seemingly innocuoussounding organizations, each
one a right wing fascist supporting group, plotting against the British
Government and informing the enemy.
The amount of information Mr
Willetts provides and the sheer scale of the documentary evidence he must have
trailed through to obtain it is quite astounding. Many of the details are
backed by reference notes found at the back of the book, the author also gives
lengthy information about his sources here too. The detail he imparts to us
about the often unusual and sometimes bizarre characters, their friends,
meeting places, clothes and lifestyles brings the Home Front war experience
close up. Though, of course almost all the characters are peopled from the
upper levels of society, none of your working class types here. It is quite
revealing just how many well educated intelligent people were willing to be
taken in by fascist propaganda to practice a political ideology based on racial
The narrative centres on
a British MI5 spy controller named Max of Section B5b and his investigations
into the activities of The Right Club an organization set up
by a sitting MP. In particular, the activities of two people a U.S. Embassy
worker Tyler and a Russian Nazi sympathizer Anna. But the connections each of
them had with other supporters [like-minded people] and agents is a little
Needless to say, the
Russian Tea Rooms are at the centre of things; as they are a meeting place for
many Russian emigres who for one reason or another find themselves in London.
The rooms are run by an ex-Naval Attaché to the Imperial Russian Embassy,
Admiral Wolkoff and his wife Vera. Both fascists and admirers of Germany's
leaders they, like their daughter Anna are under the covert watch of MI5.
Tyler, originally posted
to the Moscow U.S. Embassy, is forced to move to London after being compromised
by the Soviets. He begins stealing copies of communications between the U.S.
and European governments and particularly sensitive telegrams between Churchill
and Roosevelt. He has a very expensive lifestyle to maintain, he rubs shoulders
with the very wealthy and aristocratic elite. The salary of a clerk working in
the code room of the U.S. Embassy could not come near supporting such a
sybarite such as Tyler.
Anna is an anti-Semite
who believed in the idea that there was a Bolshevik-Jewish plot that resulted
in the Russian Revolution. She saw the fascist risings in Spain, Italy and
latterly Germany as the ideal way to remove the communists from her home
country and to eradicate the Jewish threat [as she saw it], to Europe.
While Tyler and Anna are
making contacts to help their independent causes, Max is busy embedding his
agents into the fascist Right Club's membership circle. Inevitably, Tyler and
Anna are introduced to one another with Tyler's natural charm soon winning a friendship
with Anna. Their activities quickly become recognized as a serious threat to
the country's security.
Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms
is an interesting and absorbing read for those who enjoy the twists and turns
of espionage and counter espionage. It is remarkable for its detail, as the
reader is drawn into those terrible times with the narrative highlighting just
how near these fifth columnists were getting to the seats of power. If these
groups had incited their supporters to rebel at what could have been a decisive
moment in the war, how would the country have defended itself? If it hadn't
been for people such as Max and his agents would the course of the war have
been different? Who knows!