Article published on January 18, 2018.
In the latest in our series of reading group guides, Paul Burke suggests some questions to guide discussions about Nucleus by Rory Clements:
1. The appearance of Heydrich, the archetypal Nazi, introduces the story. What sort of tone do you think this set for the novel?
2. When Wilde meets Roosevelt, the president is keen to learn his opinion of the British, specifically their desire to fight a war. Wilde is unequivocal in saying the British will fight. Do you think that Tom Wilde is right? What do Roosevelt’s questions tell us about the American attitude towards Britain? Does Clements make the case for the American German Bund (AGB) being a serious threat to the special relationship (as Churchill later termed it) in the run up to war?
3. Nucleus is a meticulously researched thriller. Clements recreates a world of mistrust and insecurity. How true to the times do you think Nucleus is? What did you like or dislike about the Cambridge and Berlin of the novel? How well do you think Clements created pre-war 1939?
4. The plot has many strands (IRA, kinder transport, beginning of the nuclear weapons programme, AGB), did this structure work for you? Were there elements of the plot that surprised you or made you rethink what you know, for instance, how much did you know about the 1939 IRA S-bombing campaign?
5. Part of the plot relies on Wilde’s relationship with his cousin Henty O’Gara, the IRA bomber. Is this element of co-incidence plausible? What does it add to the story that there is a relationship between Wilde and O’Gara?
6. Did Clements explain the science behind the chain reaction and the possible development of the bomb so that you felt you understood it? Does it matter to the plot or is a general knowledge of the bomb as Armageddon enough?
7. Were you surprised by the British Government’s attitude towards nuclear science in Nucleus? In Germany the state has already assumed control and imposed secrecy on its programme and they seek to spy on the British. The British seem happy to see scientific development in the field to be a purely academic concern.
8. Much of the power in the story comes from the subterfuge, nobody is who or what they seem. How well do you think Clements used this to create the tension and surprise in the plot?
9. Do you think Clements gave Lydia a more important part in the plot this time? Was she a more proactive character?
10. How do you think Tom Wilde compares to John Shakespeare from Clements’ Elizabethan series? Would you like to see more thrillers in this series? The war is rapidly approaching; what might Wilde tackle next?
11. The mysterious Bloch/Baumgarten manages to get Lydia and Eva out of Germany, he is intriguing and never unmasked. Do you foresee a role for him in Tom Wilde’s future?
12. How far do you think Wilde’s expertise on Walsingham plays a part in his spying techniques? Was this played down from the first novel?