by Robert Harris
Penguin Hutchinson £20
The Templar’s Last Secret
by Martin Walker
Martin Walker and Robert Harris were two of the best, most politically acute journalists of their generation. Walker was a star foreign correspondent for the Guardian – charting the end of the Soviet Union from Moscow, the Clinton years in Washington, and then as the paper’s Europe editor in Brussels, narrating the initial hopes that Blair might finally get Britain to make peace with Europe.
Harris focussed on national politics writing with flair and insight. Many of his novels, including the Cicero trilogy, are about political processes and his latest on Munich in 1938 is a drama documentary outline in words about Chamberlain, Hitler and the betrayal of Czechoslovakia.
There is a sub-plot about two boys from Balliol (Walker’s old Oxford college) who become British and German diplomats. The latter wants to give a document to the former about Hitler’s plans for war.
This helps turn the pages but by 1938 only fools thought Hitler wanted peace. Britain and France might have stopped him when he invaded the Rhineland, or backed the Spanish Republicans against Hitler’s fellow fascist Franco, or mobilised when he made his bid for Czechoslovakia.
But the Tory Party was locked into appeasement and the Labour Party was locked into pacificism and non-interventionism. Chamberlain tried to have Churchill de-selected and Labour MPs who called for an alliance with Russia also faced suspension.
Harris seeks to justify Chamberlain’s belief that public opinion was not ready to face Brexit. This is like today’s MPs (of both main parties) who insist it is impossible to resist Brexit even if all know it will end disastrously.
Walker now writes an annual thriller based on Bruno, the police chief of a small town in the Dordogne, with plenty of French internal politics thrown in. He has sold 4 million of his Bruno thrillers. Walker’s book is larded, as are all his Dordogne books, with details of the wonderful food of the Perigord and how the region’s wines which are catching up in quality but not in price with their more famous Bordeaux neighbours.
The book is a Islamist terror thriller with accurate and well researched details. Poor Bruno has to engage gun in hand with a trained jihadi killer. Far fetched? Well, up to a point, but as the London and Westminister Bridge and Manchester terror attacks showed it is ordinary cops who are now in the front line of protecting the public.
Both books are great reads and show how journalists can become fine novelists.