As the War-Clouds Gather: E.P. Oppenheim’s The Double Traitor

The Right Honourable John William Hebblethwaite took the hat from his footman, stepped into his car, and was driven rapidly away. He leaned back among the cushions, more thoughtful than usual. There was a yellow moon in the sky, pale as yet. The streets were a tangled vortex of motorcars and taxies, all filled with men and women in evening dress. It was the height of a wonderful season. Everywhere was dominant the note of prosperity, gaiety, even splendour. The houses in Park Lane, flower-decked, displayed through their wide-flung windows a constant panorama of brilliantly-lit rooms. Every one was entertaining. In the Park on the other side were the usual crowd of earnest, hard-faced men and women, gathered in little groups around the orator of the moment. Hebblewaite felt a queer premonition that evening. A man of sanguine temprament, thoroughly contented with himself and his position, he seemed almost for the first time in his life to have doubts, to look into the future, to feel the rumblings of an earthquake, the great dramatic cry of a nation in the throes of suffering. 

Conversations! Conversations!! And Yet More Conversations!!!

E.Phillips Oppenheims’ The Double Traitor had been on my wishlist since the time I read a reviewer praising it grandly at Finally, this week I downloaded and read it. I don’t think there is  any other book that I’ve read that has so little of action and so much of talk.

Francis Norgate is a young diplomat attached to the British Embassy in Germany. When the novel opens, he is dining with the beautiful Baronness von Hasse at a fine restaurant in Berlin. Unknown to Norgate, the Baroness is also a favourite of Prince Karl who soon enough enters the restaurant, creates a scene, and orders Norgate to leave. Norgate stands his ground with the result that soon he is out of a job and travelling towards England.

His fellow-passenger happens to be a garrulous German crockery dealer, unimaginatively named Selingman. As Norgate is in no mood for small talk, he pretends to know no German. Thus when an agent of Selingman enters the train at one of the stations and starts conversing with him, Norgate realises that the effusive crockery-man is actually a German spy. Thru sheer luck, Norgate is also able to obtain a slip of paper with the names of German spies in England.

Once in London, Norgate makes his way to the Foreign Ministry, the Scotland Yard, and a Cabinet Minister but they all pooh-pooh away his fears.Not knowing how to save his country from what he sees as impending doom, Norgate joins Selingman, hoping to ruin the man’s game by giving him wrong information while all the time making him divulge his secrets, in short being a double traitor. Things get complicated with the arrival of the Baroness to London. Norgate knows Anna is an Austrian spy and working with Selingman but is hopelessly in love with her. Would love make him betray his country?

The problem with The Double Traitor is that there is very little of edge-of-the-seat-excitement.[Come to think of it, there is hardly any excitement, let alone of the e-of-s variety].You know that the English Novice would outclass the German Master Spy. [And it would seem that Austria, England, and Germany have only one spy each!]. Though, it is supposedly a novel of espionage there is very little action in it. Characters spend most of their time talking. To top it all, there is a gaping plot-hole too.**

However, Oppenheim does capture well the world of the upper-class and aristocracy. As the idle rich move across clubs, race-courses, restaurants, and theatres, one cannot help but feel a pang for the world that is about to be buried forever in the trenches. Here is a conversation at the club:

“Mr. Norgate is, or rather he was,” Mrs. Paston Benedek remarked. “He has just left the Embassy at Berlin.”

Selingman leaned back in his chair and thrust both hands into his trouser pockets. He indulged in a few German expletives, bombastic and thunderous, which relived him so much that he was able to conclude his speech in English.

“I am the densest blockhead in all Europe!” he announced emphatically. “If I had realised your identity, I would have willingly left you alone. No wonder you were feeling indisposed for idle conversation! Mr. Francis Norgate, eh? A little affair at the Cafe de Berlin with a lady and a hot-headed young princeling. Well, well! Young sir, you have become more to me than an ordinary acquaintance. If I had known the cause of your ill-humour, I would certainly have left you alone, but I would have shaken you first by the hand.”

The fourth at the table, who was an elderly lady of somewhat austere appearence, produced a small black cigar from what seemed to be a harmless-looking reticule which she was carrying and lit it. Selingman stared at her with his mouth open.

“Is this a bridge-table or is it not?” She enqured severely. “These little personal reminiscences are very interesting among yourselves, I dare say, but I cut in here with the idea of playing bridge.”

Selingman was the first to recover his manners, although his eyes seemed still fascinated by the cigar. “We owe you apologies, madam, ” he acknowledged. “Permit me to cut.”

The rubber progressed and finished in comparative silence.

If only this humour had been present through out. Rather I had to plod through the entire book. However, I don’t want to dismiss this self-styled ‘Prince of Storytellers’ and would like to read at least one more work of his.


The book can be downloaded from various sites. I downloaded it from


First Line: The woman leaned across the table towards her companion.

Title: The Double Traitor

Author: E. Phillips Oppenheim

First Published: 1915

Other Books Read: None



Why would Selingman consider Norgate’s engagement with Anna as a proof of his having come over to their side considering the fact that he was just warning the Austrian ambassador against Anna as her loyalty was suspect. Shouldn’t it have made him more wary of Norgate?

Submitted for the E-Book Challenge

Also submitted for the following challenges: AZRC, British Books, Find the Cover, Merely Mystery, Mystery and Suspense, New Authors, Vintage Mystery, War through the Generations, Wishlist.

9 thoughts on “As the War-Clouds Gather: E.P. Oppenheim’s The Double Traitor

  1. Thanks for your comments on my Oppenheim site. It's a shame you started with such a turkey.My favourite of his books is The Treasure House of Martin Hews, a wonderful piece of entertainment.Of the available ebooks my own pick is The Cinema Murder've read a lot the books I see you mention.Good luck with your challenges.


  2. Thanks for having a look. From the time I read your blog, I've been looking for The Treasure House of Martin Hews. Guess for the time being I'll just settle for The Cinema Murder (quite like the name).Do you have another blog too besides the Oppenheim one?


  3. If you like to read about England's aristocracy and upper-classes before WWI than do read the book. But yes, the book does plod along…Thanks for leaving a comment.


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