The second installment of Robert Goddard’s worldwide trilogy, THE CORNERS OF THE GLOBE is a first rate sequel to THE WAYS OF THE WORLD. The main character James Maxted, better known as “Max” continues his quest to discredit the idea that his father, Sir Henry, a British diplomat attached to the English delegation at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 had committed suicide. To avoid rehashing the details of the events surrounding the death of Sir Henry, the machinations that ensued involving a number of foreign secret services, and the impact of events on the peace talks, Goddard provides a handy memo written by Henry Appleby, a member of the British Secret Service that summarizes events in his missive to “C,” the individual in charge of English intelligence, dated 27 April 1919 (see pp. 31-36). The memo allows those readers who have not read THE WAYS OF THE WORLD to gain somewhat of an understanding of why the story line proceeds as it does, though it is a bit confusing at the outset.
The narrative continues as Max arrives crossing over from Scotland and landing at Kirkwall Bay which at the time is overrun by American mine sweepers trying to clear the vast body of water from mines laid during the Great War. Max, who is now in the service of British intelligence, also posing as an agent of the German spy master, Fritz Lemmer, who he suspects was responsible for the death of his father, is to inspect a German warship that has been interned at Scapa Flow. Max’s mission is to recover a document, the Grey File, a coded list that details Lemmer’s foreign operatives that are working for German interests in Paris that is held aboard a German ship. Once the document is located Max is forced to give up his cover story as death seems to follow his path as he races south to London with the documentation that would finally destroy Lemmer.
Goddard weaves a number of sub plots into his narrative that seems to coalesce at various times in the book and points to Goddard’s skill as a master story teller. Max’s mother, Lady Maxted enlists her brother George Clissold to deal with a law suit that was about to be brought against her by a French socialite who had purchased a series of antiquities from her deceased husband. The intricacies associated with the Maxted and Tomura families repeatedly make their appearance. Next, we find Sam Twentyman, a colleague of Max’s from the war, in charge of the British motor pool in Paris trying to avoid being killed by Lemmer’s men who believe he knows where Max can be found. The roles of Travis Ierton and Schools Morahan, whose main business was the exchange of illegally obtained information about the peace negotiations and selling it to the highest bidder is ever present. Horace Appleby and Max’s quest to disclose to “C” the identity of spies within British intelligence, when they themselves have been accused of being spies by members of the secret committee headed by “C” that controls intelligence operations from London is extremely important. Finally, the reader is exposed to the machinations of the Japanese at the peace conference as they try to acquire the former German colony of Shantung from the Chinese.
The role of the Japanese introduces a number of new characters in the story. Marquis Saionji, the head of the Japanese delegation faces political problems at home as he is perceived as not being tough enough in presenting Japan’s position in Paris. His deputy Count Masatake Kuroda is recalled to Tokyo and is replaced by Count Tomura Iwazu, a gangster with interests in Korea and Manchuria, who represents the right wing nationalist faction of the Japanese government. Count Tomuro, employing his son Nuboro, searches for the mysterious Arab le Singe who he believes is privy to secret Japanese documents and information that could destroy Tomuro’s illegal business empire and political influence. The result is havoc and death for anyone who gets in their way. It seems for most of the book that every strand in the story leads to le Singe. What does he know? Lemmer and his men, Nuboro and his thugs, British intelligence led by Appleby and Max are all desperate to find him first so they can figure out the proper course to take to protect their personal and governmental interests. However, as the story continues to unfold, of the utmost importance is that a deadly secret exists that is deeply buried in Japan’s domestic political power struggle. This secret has already cost the lives of Max’s father, Sir Henry, and a growing list of others who have some knowledge of what it is.
Goddard’s historical nuances are as strong in his second installment as they were in the first volume of the trilogy. He points to the problems between the Greeks and Turks as they covet certain territory. The American government’s subterfuge in fomenting a revolution in Columbia in order to obtain a strip of land to push the Panama Canal through. President Wilson’s battle with the Japanese over self-determination for the Chinese. The political infighting within the Japanese peace delegation and government in Tokyo, as well as the arrival of the German delegation to receive the final peace treaty are all significant and presented with historical insight and accuracy.
The glue that seems to bind all the characters, whether from THE WAYS OF THE WORLD or newly introduced in THE CORNERS OF THE GLOBE is the Grey File and what it entails, the knowledge that le Singe may possess, and economic and political influence in Japan. The disingenuous behavior and violence that dominates the story is well suited to the characters that Goddard has developed. The book continues a mysterious historical yarn, but as in the first book, it ends rather abruptly leaving the reader hanging looking forward to reading the final volume in Goddard’s trilogy, THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.