With the reckless courage which made him such an effective pilot in World War One, Max would be at a loose end if he had not become obsessed with the need to discover the reason for the murder of his father, Sir Henry Maxted, which he spent the first part of this trilogy proving was no suicide in Paris. Volume 2 finds Max passing himself off as a secret agent of the ruthless German spymaster Lemmer, as a means of somehow extracting the answer to the mystery which he believes only Lemmer holds. Max’s mission involves a trip to the defeated German fleet at Scapa Flow and then a chase back from Scotland to London, all with deliberate irony reminiscent of “The Thirty-nine Steps”, since the arch-villainess Nadia is found at one point reading this novel, which she describes as less exciting than Max’s adventures.
Such is the frenetic pace of the novel, and the number of trademark Goddard twists, that the Scapa Flow mission is a distant memory by the end, although the author contrives to neatly hook it back into relevance again. This is a page-turner with the downside that the next twist often comes before you have absorbed the previous one, reducing the overall memory of events to a blur. This is a pity since there are interesting psychological aspects which could have been explored more, which I am sure they were in the earlier novels, without destroying the drama. For instance, Max seems to be developing into a steely machine as he kills or maims his enemies with no compunction or shock.
Since the plot follows directly on from the first novel, it would have reduced confusion to provide a list of characters at the front with a note of their roles in “The Ways of the World”. This would seem preferable to the insertion in the story of an indigestible synopsis of Part 1, presented as a secret memo explaining why Max has been hired by the British Secret Service to infiltrate Lemmer’s organisation.
I think I prefer Goddard’s skills applied to a specific theme in a single self-contained book. Carried over a trilogy, the twists pile up to such a degree that the plot is in danger of choking on its own tail, although, if Goddard can carry it off in Part 3, he may in fact have achieved something clever, using a device he has never resorted to before (as far as I recall) and will be unable to use effectively again.