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The Great Impersonation

E. Phillips Oppenheim

Book Overview: 

The Great Impersonation is considered by many to be E. Phillips Oppenheim's best novel. The story focuses on German espionage in England prior to the start of World War I. The tale centers on two characters that are almost identical in appearance. Indeed, while both attend the same school in England, they are often mistaken for one another. One character is Sir Everard Dominey, an English baronet who enjoys the “good life” but falls into disfavor when he is accused of murdering Roger Unthank. Unthank, of the same village, has an infatuation for Dominey’s wife, Rosamund, and attacks Dominey. Dominey comes before his wife bloody and ragged after the struggle with Unthank. The spectacle renders her unbalanced. This is more than Dominey can bear and he goes on a long travel and drinking binge spanning years. Dominey’s wife threatens to kill him if he ever returns. The second character is Baron Leopold von Ragastein, a German nobleman. Von Ragastein has fallen into disrespect with the Kaiser for his affair with a Hungarian princess and subsequent killing of her nobleman husband in a duel. He is banished to a minor government position in East Africa as punishment. A chance encounter between Dominey and von Ragastein in German East Africa sets the pretext for the story. Von Ragastein returns to England as Dominey, to regain his position in society, and serve Germany by influencing England to keep out of the coming conflict. There is one problem however: there are some, including Dominey’s wife, who are not convinced that Sir Everard Dominey is really who he claims to be.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . . choose to have you concentrate the whole of your energies upon one task and one task only. If there is anything of the spy about your mission here, it is not England or the English which are to engage your attention. We require you to concentrate wholly and entirely upon Terniloff."

Dominey was startled.

"Terniloff?" he repeated. "I expected to work with him, but—"

"Empty your mind of all preconceived ideas," Seaman enjoined. "What your duties are with regard to Terniloff will grow upon you gradually as the situation develops."

"As yet," Dominey remarked, "I have not even made his acquaintance."

"I was on the point of telling you, earlier in our conversation, that I have made an appointment for you to see him at eleven o'clock to-night at the Embassy. You will go to him at that hour. Remember, you know nothing, you are waiting for instructions. Let speech remain with him alone. Be particularly careful not to d. . . Read More

Community Reviews

This was fast-paced for a book written almost 100 years ago. I expected it to drag a little more, as older works sometimes do, but it was suspenseful throughout. It was even romantic, which surprised me. I thought Victorian/Edwardian gentlemen, like the author, were disdainful of "sentiment." My...more

An amazing and breathtaking adventure, so incredibly well written that the reader stays until quite the end without being sure if the impostor is really one... A first book that I read by this Author, E. Phillips Oppenheim completely conquered me as a reader... The plot is interesting, the charac...more

A slim novel with a great surprise at the end, I would love to see the movie, but couldn't find it.

EPO was a bon vivant, worldling and womanizer who wrote about 60 thriller-espionagers in the early 20thC. His characters are rich, glamorous -- both the good and the bad. Quirky readers like myself have even collected his oft dated but delightfully woozy adventures. (I have about 15). Some are no...more

I read about this book somewhere, so thought it was worth trying. Very dated tosh, especially when it comes to the women who fawn over the central character. All right if you read it as an example of the sorts of books people thought were thrilling back in about 1920, but not otherwise.

4.5 *
Excellent espionage suspense novel set in the time leading up to WW1.

Two men who look amazingly alike, one German and one English, meet in German East Africa. Which one is it that returns to England as Everard Dominey?? Added to that is the mystery surrounding Dominey's wife and the c...more

A most exciting novel a German intends to murder an Englishman with rather similar features to his, assume his identity and spy on the English high society. This tale is full of murder, crime, confused identity, blackmail, war, romance, politics, and theres even a 'ghost'...
All the elements of a...more

I thought I read this because of a review by Michael Dirda of the Wash. Post on Oppenheim's writings, but I can't find any such review online. Dirda or no, the review warned me this wasn't a literary gem. My interest was in spy novels that preceded Eric Ambler or John Buchan.
It was a competent b...more

This novel,written in 1920,is a winner. The twist in the last chapter is stunning. It is a first rate espionage/spy thriller set in the months before WWI. It is marked contrast to much of today's thriller writing, i.e., a minimum of violence, few four letter words, and no explicit sex scenes, ye...more

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