The House of Rumour

Written by Jake Arnott
Review by Edward James

At first sight this is a conspiracy thriller, although more ‘literary’ than most, as one would expect from Sceptre. It has the usual ingredients: a multiplicity of characters and locations, an historic mystery and frequent shifts between present and past. However, unlike in many stories of this genre, the mystery is not in the Bible or ancient Egypt but in 1941, the Hess flight to Scotland when the Deputy Fuhrer of the Reich took off on his lone peace mission.

However, as the story unfolds, the Hess mission assumes less and less importance. There really isn’t a story, but a complex jigsaw which takes in most of the cultural and social history of the western world (or at least America, Germany, Britain and Cuba) since 1941. Almost every chapter – there are 21 – is told from the point of view of a different character, often in the first person, ranging from Hess himself to a British civil servant, a Cuban revolutionary, a Hollywood film director, a black Detroit car worker and others, beginning and ending with a pulp sci-fi author from LA. It is a virtuoso performance. Like a jigsaw, it is seldom obvious how these pieces fit together. And the Hess mystery is never resolved, nor is any other of the mysteries the novel throws up.

This is a very entertaining novel which raises intriguing and important questions and is not without excitement and romance, but don’t expect a tightly plotted thriller with a neat denouement.