Sunday, October 28, 2018

This Fortress by Manning Coles (1942)

About the author (wikipedia): Manning Coles is the pseudonym of two British writers, Adelaide Frances Oke Manning (1891–1959) and Cyril Henry Coles (1899–1965), who wrote many spy thrillers from the early 40s through the early 60s. The fictional protagonist in 26 of their books was Thomas Elphinstone Hambledon, who works for the Foreign Office.

Major characters:
Tom Languish, soldier and owner of garage
Griggs, his first mechanic
George Mathews, his second mechanic
Dimmock, his cook/housekeeper
Baron Alberich von Rensburg
Hildegarde von Rensburg
Otto von Rensburg, their son
Jessica Casey, local resident

Locale: England and Germany

Synopsis: While Tom Languish is serving in occupied Germany, he is billeted at Schloss Rensburg; home of Baron Alberich von Rensburg and his young wife Hildegarde. Tom becomes close friends with Hildegarde. He is demobilized and returns to England, and opens a small garage with his mechanic Griggs and housekeeper/cook Dimmock. He keeps in touch with Hildegarde by letter, learning that she and the Baron now have a son Otto.

The Baron eventually dies. Tom visits Hildegarde. They discuss marriage, but cannot agree on where to live - Germany or England - and have an uneasy parting due to that disagreement.

The borders close, and Tom loses touch with Hildegarde. He is occupied with his garage, and strikes up a friendship with Jessica Casey while England is enduring air raids from Germany. Mechanic Griggs is called up, and he hires George Mathews as a replacement. Mathews renovates a room above the garage and moves in. During an air raid, Mathews rescues two twin girls from a collapsed house and becomes a local hero.


This is one of Manning Coles' non-Tommy Hambledon books. Not quite a mystery, nor a thriller, but a captivating tale of life in England during the war; and all the privations that came with it. Suspense comes in when there is suspicion of a German spy in the village. The events take a number of surprising turns at the end, with the final ending quite poignant and satisfying. It is easy to imagine reading this book with airplanes droning overhead as searchlights look for them.

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