Winston Churchill, reappointed as First Lord of the Admiralty in September 1939, suspected there was a mole operating at the heart of the Admiralty during the first months of World War II. Did he leak critical information about naval defenses at the Royal Navy’s British base at Scapa Flow that lead to the sinking of the Royal Oak and the loss of 836 men in an audacious raid by a German U-Boat?
And how was this German spy linked with US Embassy spy Tyler Kent and Anna Wolkoff, an fanatical anti-Bolshevik Russian émigré who made dresses for the Duchess of Windsor and sold the best caviar in London in her family’s South Kensington Tea Room, who conspired to smuggle secret correspondence between President Roosevelt and Churchill to the Nazis? Scotland Yard chief inspector Nicholas Ridgeway’s dogged investigation of a murder in a Whitehall back street leads him to the aristocratic Nazi sympathizers in the Right Club and to play a key role in the surprising sting that exposes the mole in the Admiralty.
We’ll never know all the facts about treachery in London in those early months of the War because the Navy burnt tons of sensitive papers in 1945. John’s historical novel postulates what might have been, weaving known fact and historical characters in a rich tale that captures the mood of that bleak winter of 1940, the coldest in living memory. Along the way we meet Churchill, US Ambassador Joe Kennedy, Ian Fleming, MI5’s notorious Maxwell Knight, and sultry MI5 agent Joan Miller.
Great Zimbabwe is an enigma. We know so little about central and southern Africa before 1500. Archaeologists have had to pore over scraps of old pots, glass beads, iron tools and carbon date old bits of wood. Some have searched for hints in rock paintings. Anthropologists have sought a window into a past that is more than 600 years old through wondering how modern day cultural practices have evolved from the Iron Age. Historians have sifted through oral stories, myths and legends for threads of the story of prehistoric Zimbabwe.
It has all been guess work because until Portuguese traders and missionaries arrived in the early 16th Century after Vasco de Gama sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in 1498, nobody wrote anything down. There does not seem to have been any form of written communication in pre-modern Africa south of the Sahara, except possibly cave paintings.
But there are tantalising clues to how the people who resided in what was surely the city of Great Zimbabwe lived: to how they became wealthy and the city a centre of southern African trade. But these clues must be seen clearly and dispassionately, beyond the controversy that has surrounded the Ruins since they were introduced to the wider modern world in the Victorian era. Some of the old controversies have been calmed or widely dismissed, but new ones have grown.
This book sets out the record of a journey into imagining life at the Great Zimbabwe Monument at the height of its prestige and influence when it dominated central southern Africa in the Middle Ages.