Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Review: THE GREAT IMPERSONATION by E. Phillips Oppenheim

book cover Original Publication Date: 1920

Genre: Mystery

Topics: Espionage, Germanic horde, WWI, love, civilization vs savagery


Review by heidenkind:

Sir Everard Dominey, living in self-exile in Africa, wakes up after a night of drinking too much whiskey to find himself the guest of Leopold von Ragastein, his doppelganger. The two have many similarities beside their appearance: they both have a natural gift for languages, and Ragastein is also in exile after killing his mistress' husband in a duel. The only major difference between them is that Ragastein is German and therefore EVIL. After spending the night prying into the life of Everard Dominey, Ragastein and his friend, Dr. Schmidt, send Dominey out into the African desert with no water and nothing but extremely salty food, never to be heard from again. Then, taking on the identity of his double, Ragastein goes to England, where he, impersonating Everard Dominey, is in the perfect position to be the greatest and most insidious German spy of all time. But will he have the heart to do what the Kaiser asks of him? And is Everard Dominey really dead?

I decided to read The Great Impersonation after I "overheard" Melody from Redeeming Qualities and Evangeline from Edwardian Promenade talking about it on Twitter. I'm so glad I did! The Great Impersonation is an absolutely great story, good enough for me to overlook the constant references to Rosamund Dominey, Everard's homicidally insane wife, as "childlike" (yes, his wife is insane and homicidal, YET CHILDLIKE. You're hooked now, aren't you?).

As soon as "Dominey" returns to England, the reader is sure two things are going to happen: Leopold's going to fall in love with Dominey's wife, and the real Everard Dominey is going to show up and spoil everything. Of course, this should be something the reader wants to happen, since Leopold is GERMAN and therefore EVIL. But in actuality, Leopold is kind of upstanding and honorable, and—now that he's in England—demonstrates some divided loyalties between England and Germany. It's almost enough to make one think The Great Impersonation might be the only book in all of 20th century English literature where there's a good German character. Almost.

I also liked how The Great Impersonation is a cross between several genres. Yes, you have the whole spy/WWI plot; but it could also arguably be classified as a gothic mystery, what with the ominous Dominey homestead (filled with secret passages, hauntings, superstitious locals, and an adjacent cursed forest, OF COURSE) and the disappearance of Roger Unthank; as well as a coming of age tale.

Basically, if you're looking for an entertaining, fast-paced novel with mystery, romance, and twists, you can't go wrong with The Great Impersonation. I'll definitely be reading more of E. Phillips Oppenheim's work in the future!

Download The Great Impersonation by E. Phillips Oppenheim at Project Gutenberg|Librivox