E. Phillips Oppenheim – The Great Impersonation

Title: The Great Impersonation
Author: E. Phillips Oppenheim

East Africa, 1913. The disgraced English aristocrat Everard Dominey stumbles out of the bush, and comes face to face with his lookalike— the German Baron von Ragastein.

Months later, Dominey returns to London and resumes his glittering social life. But is it really Dominey who has come back, or a German secret agent seeking to infiltrate English high society? As international tension mounts and the great powers of Europe move closer to war, Dominey finds himself entangled in a story of suspicion and intrigue. He must try to evade his insane and murderous wife as well as escape the attentions of the passionate Princess Eiderstrom, and will eventually uncover the secret of the ghost that haunts his ancestral home.

There are two mysteries in this novel. though neither is a typical whodunit, it’s more general questions that the reader is supposed to wonder about. The first question is: who exactly is the main character of this book? Because in the first chapter we witness a meeting between Englishman Everard Dominey and German Baron von Ragastein who went to school together and who look so much alike that they could be twins. Then we learn that Ragastein is a German spy and he plans to kill Dominey, take his place and infiltrate British society. In the next chapter, we’re back in Britain and Dominey is welcomed there, though many people remark on how much he has changed. So which of the two has returned? Let’s put it this way: I had my suspicions where this question was concerned and at the end, I wasn’t terribly surprised (and I doubt that others will be).

The second question concerns the reasons Dominey left England in the first place: he quarrelled with a man, attacked him and seemingly killed him but his body was never found. Now the man’s ghost seems to haunt the woods where it all happened. More events are connected to this tragedy: after coming home covered in the man’s blood his wife – being a weak and feeble woman – went mad and now she’s taken care of by the dead man mother who hates Dominey with a passion. The question here is: what exactly happened that day, where’s the body and how does it all together? Here I also had my suspicions. Not about every detail but about some things and again I wasn’t terribly surprised at the reveal.

Which leaves a rather predictable story with characters that are…not exactly deep and complex. Since we’re not told if the main character is Dominey or von Ragastein, we don’t get too much of his inner thoughts and feelings which would give away whom he is fooling. But as a result I never felt much of a connection to him. The women meanwhile get two pick one or more of the following traits: hot, mad, evil and are all obsessed with Dominey/Ragastein in one way or the other and that’s also rather exhausting.

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