The name of Tolkien conjures elves, orcs, hobbits, and all things Middle Earth and magical. Simon Tolkien, grandson of J. R. R. Tolkien, does not write fantasy. He takes his themes from history and, in Orders from Berlin from the people and facts surrounding Hitler and World War II.
In London during the blitz, a British double agent, Charles Seaforth, is in contact with Heydrich, the head of the espionage branch of the SS. Hitler wants Britain out of the war because he feels there is enough world for British colonialism and for the thousand-year Reich to exist amicably side by side. Hitler's dream became ashes when Winston Churchill became Prime Minister and Britain became the biggest stumbling block to Hitler's plans. Goering's answer was to bomb Britain into submission and, in spite of air superiority and nighttime bombing raids that decimated most of the cities, London especially, the British bulldog was ready to fight.
Heydrich decided to throw the dice and have his top agent, Charles Seaforth, an up and coming operative in the British intelligence unit, assassinate Churchill. Get rid of Churchill and the British would stop fighting Hitler's Germany and the Nazi troops could move on Russia. The plan was set and Seaforth had access to Churchill. Britain was about to plunge into disaster.
This is the world of Simon Tolkien's Orders from Berlin and the very real assassination attempt against his life. The time is palpably real and the main characters finely drawn. At the heart of the plot is a man determined to destroy Churchill for his actions against his family during the first World War, a man obsessed with the destruction of Churchill even if it means destroying his own country.
What brings Tolkien's version of history to life are the tiny details. Add an embittered young woman shoved aside and wrapped up in the antique philosophy that women are to be protected from the world and from the truth, a doggedly determined junior inspector with Scotland Yard, a cunning double agent with a healthy dose of conceit, and a chief inspector of Scotland Yard who is certain of his ability to spot a criminal at first glance. Into this meat grinder, Tolkien throws a doctor with much to lose and time running out on his, his father-in-law who has more money than his daughter knows, and an operative in MI6 whose conflicted loyalties put him at odds with Churchill and in the way of Charles Seaforth, who remains polished and calm at all times.
Tolkien's look into the workings of Hitler's staff and his unpredictable tempers and the world of Winston Church's MI6 are detailed and evocative. Orders from Berlin reads like biography with the evocative details of a thriller. Although Tolkien tends towards florid descriptions in some areas, his prose is sharp and precise and the characters realistic.
It is unlikely Simon Tolkien will become a literary icon like his grandfather. His work, however, is solid, accurate, and human. I look forward to more of Simon Tolkien's novels. Orders from Berlin is an excellent example of how the most meticulous plans can be thwarted by an average man who is determined to find the truth of even the smallest clue.