Sunday, August 2, 2020

Now or Never by Manning Coles (1951)

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:
  • Karl Torgius, found hanging as story opens
  • George Yeoman, British subject visiting Cologne
  • Magda Von Bergen, his one-time girlfriend
  • Monsieur Albert Baptiste, a French con man
  • Heinrich Spelmann, private investigator
  • Tommy Hambledon, British Secret Service
  • Alexander Campbell, British model maker
  • William Forgan, his partner
  • Alfonso d'Almeida, Spaniard #1
  • Miguel Piccione, Spaniard #2
Locale: Cologne, Germany

Synopsis: Tommy Hambledon is in postwar Cologne, a city much in ruins. He is posing as a tourist while looking for an underground Fascist group, the Silver Ghosts. He finds one desolated street, the Unter Goldschmied, which locals avoid - there is nothing there but rubble piles, anyway. One morning Karl Torgius is found hanging from a beam in a rubble pile. His family hires P.I. Heinrich Spelmann to find out what happened to him. 

There are two young women who are always seen in that street, sometimes guiding men through the rubble piles to a point unknown. No one asks questions. One woman in Magda Von Bergen, once a girlfriend of British soldier George Yeoman, who has returned to Cologne after the war to look for her, but she rebuffs him.

Tommy teams up with Spelmann. He finds the Silver Ghosts are expecting a visit from two Spaniards Alfonso d'Almedia and Miguel Piccione. Tommy's associates, Alexander Campbell and William Forgan, who run a model railroad shop in England as a cover, arrive and manage to get the two Spaniards arrested and deported. Campbell and Forgan then assume the Spaniards' identities in order to infiltrate the Silver Ghosts. It is found the two woman act as guides/guards for their meetings. 

Review: This may be a Tommy Hambledon story but the stars are the modelmakers Alexander Campbell and William Forgan. They run a model railroad shop in London, and it may be assumed that is a cover for their real work in British intelligence. They are fearless and jump right into any adventure that comes their way. The climax of the story comes when they are fooled into taking a fake autobus tour and wind up help captive in an inn along with the others.

The story gives the reader a feel for what the ruins of postwar Germany must have been like. Another of Manning Coles at his best.

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