The espionage thriller has changed in genre over the years. We first had the public school adventurer of John Buchan and Bulldog Drummond, then the more complex novels of Graham Greene and Eric Ambler, more cosmopolitan and tinged by faith; by the fifties the glamorous sexy James Bond seemed part of, and indeed shaped, the more liberated values of the sixties whilst Len Deighton’s Harry Palmer was more the working class anti-hero; John Le Carre, whose novels I always found opaque, defined the Cold War in the tortuous world of Smiley of the Circus versus Karla on the other side; Robert Ryan has returned to the old enemy, Germany with a popular genre of historical faction. The conceit is Dr Watson serves as a medical officer in World War One.
Plot is one of the ingredients you look for in an enjoyable novel. The problem of this novel is there is too much of it. I sense that it is more a screenplay awaiting a film as the action becomes increasingly improbable. The story is the construction of a secret weapon in East Anglia. This brings Watson in as he is an expert on shell shock and nervous disorder. He has to confront a German spy network. Sherlock Holmes is incarcerated in the island of Foulness to which the action shifts.
Ryan does his research on mental disorder, Winston Churchill, military materiel, and the novel is a page turner. The after taste is more of those action packed novels that popular American writers like Robert Ludlum and Sidney Sheldon used to turn out but stretches our credibility.