"Richmond Times Dispatch" Feb 20, 2013. Jay Strafford.

In “Orders From Berlin”, Simon Tolkien tells a gripping story of one particularly evil villain and his dastardly plot. 

In September 1940, Hitler has launched the Blitz against the United Kingdom in an effort to force a British capitulation. But despite the devastation, the island nation fights on, inspired by Prime Minister Winston Churchill; to attain their goal, the Nazis hatch a plan to assassinate Churchill with the help of a mole inside MI6. 

But they haven’t reckoned with Detective Constable William Trave of Scotland Yard - the hero, in later time periods, of two of Tolkien’s three earlier novels. 

When Albert Morrison, a former MI6 chief, is murdered, a cryptic note is found in his pocket, and the police learn that it was left there the previous day by Alec Thorn, deputy chief of the spy agency and a longtime friend of Morrison’s. Deputy Chief Inspector John Quaid, who is given to long-jumping to conclusions, quickly fixes on Morrison’s son-in-law, Dr. Bertram Brive, as the killer, but Trave has his doubts. 

So does Thorn, and, eventually, Morrison’s daughter, Ada Brive, and the race is on to find the real killer, prove his guilt and save Churchill’s life. 

With the criminal’s identity revealed midway through the novel, “Orders From Berlin” is less of a whodunit than Tolkien’s prior novels but a dandy thriller. And Tolkien, the grandson of “Lord of the Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien, again proves adept at preserving the family legacy. He does so not only with a page-turner of a plot but also with well-developed, finely shaded characters, among them Morrison - a fussy, somewhat dictatorial old man - and the abrasive Thorn, who has long been in love with Ava. 

Not content to simply excite the reader, Tolkien, as always, adds a moral element that begets admiration for the author and reflection on what Churchill called “the dark, lamentable catalog of human crime.”

"Publishers Weekly" 11th December 2012

Jack Higgins fans will enjoy Tolkien’s exciting third suspense novel featuring Det. Insp. William Trave (after 2011’s The King of Diamonds), a prequel set in the fall of 1940. As Adolf Hitler and Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Gestapo, plot to use a mole in British intelligence to further the Reich’s ambitions, Trave lands a murder case. Albert Morrison, the ousted head of MI6, has been killed, flung down a flight of stairs by someone Morrison’s grown daughter, Ava, who witnessed the crime, could not identify. Trave’s oafish superior, Det. Chief Insp. John Quaid, quickly settles on Ava’s husband, Bertie, as the killer, since Bertie had a pecuniary motive for his father-in-law’s death. Trave isn’t so sure, a feeling that’s only heightened as he tries to learn more about Morrison’s work. Heartfelt evocations of the horrors of war, in particular the effects of the bombing raids on Londoners, show Tolkien has upped his game.

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"Huntington News" December 13, 2012. David. M. Kinchen.

In "Orders from Berlin" Simon Tolkien takes us back to September 1940 to a London that is being terror bombed day and night by the Luftwaffe in what is a softening up of a country about to suffer the fate of Poland, France, Belgium, Norway and the other countries crushed by the Germans - or so Hitler hopes. He thinks England and Germany are natural allies and he can't understand why the stubborn Brits keep fighting.

Tolkien? Yes, he's the grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien, the Anglo-Saxon scholar who wrote the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit books, and he's a fine writer in his own right, especially when it comes to recreating the sights and sounds of wartime England. And, to all those who savage the U.K. for its bombing of Germany, especially Hamburg and Dresden, I'd like to remind them who started it with Rotterdam, Coventry, and especially London. Are you listening, David Irving?

Winston Churchill maintains the country's morale. In Germany, Adolf Hitler and Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Gestapo and the SD, the SS's intelligence division, ponder a plan to eliminate Churchill from the equation. Heydrich has a mole in MI6 who could kill Churchill, eliminating the need for an invasion - code name Sea Lion - and convince Britain to join forces with Germany to fight the common enemy, the Soviet Union.

Albert Morrison, ex-chief of MI6, the U.K.'s secret service in charge of foreign spying - James Bond's agency - is pushed over the banister outside his London apartment. He falls to his death at the feet of his daughter, Ava, but it is too dark for her to see the attacker before he escapes. Two Scotland Yard detectives investigate the crime scene: Inspector Quaid and his junior assistant, Detective Trave. Quaid is convinced that Morrison's death is a simple open-and-shut case involving a family dispute, and that Ava's husband, Dr. Bertram Brive, pushed the well-to-do Morrison over the bannister to get access to an inheritance that would pay his debts.

In a case of two different agency operatives who are at odds with each other, Trave is not so sure that the good doctor is the culprit: He thinks Quaid is jumping to the wrong conclusions, ignoring a note in the dead man's pocket to points to MI6. Trave discovers that Morrison was visited by Alec Thorn, deputy head of MI6, on the day of his death. Thorn and his subordinate, Charles Seaforth, don't get along, to say the least. Add their attraction to Morrison's daughter Ava Brive, and the plot thickens like a Yorkshire pudding.

In "Orders from Berlin" Tolkien takes us back to the case that started it all for Trave, the hero of his last two critically acclaimed novels. 

Tolkien is plowing ground tilled by such masters as Jack Higgins, Alan Furst and one of my favorites, Robert Harris, author of the 1992 alternate history novel "Fatherland" which takes the form of a detective story set in a Britain where Hitler had won the war. But Tolkien's treatment of life in wartime Britain rings true and has a distinctive voice. I found the passages describing the horrors of World War I as witnessed by Seaforth's older brother particularly moving, reminding me of a similar situation in a novel I recently reviewed, "The Absolutist" by John Boyne. In an interview in USA Today, Simon Tolkien said one influence on his thriller writing was Herman Wouk ("The Caine Mutiny") who recreated the period of World War II "beautifully" in "The Winds of War."

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"Philidelphia Inquirer" 20th Jan 2013. Frank Wilson.

Simon Tolkien's latest novel is the third he has written featuring English policeman William Trave. 

In the first two, set mostly in the late 1950s, Trave is an inspector in the Oxford police department. This new one, though, takes place nearly 20 years earlier, during the London Blitz, and Trave is just another young cop, transferred from Oxford to London, and, in addition to being the assistant to Deputy Chief Inspector John Quaid, has weekend civil defense duties. 

Quaid has his doubts about Trave: 

He was a queer fish, this new assistant of his. . . He was built like a boxer, with a square jaw and muscled arms, yet he was always reading poetry books in the canteen, looking as if he were a hundred miles away. As far as Quaid was concerned, Trave thought a damn sight too much for his own good, and it was a constant source of irritation the way he always had to have his own take on their cases. . . . He didn't seem to understand there was such a thing as a chain of command in the police force . . . and there'd been times when Quaid had seriously considered throwing the book at him. 

In other words, Trave's most distinguishing characteristic - his refusal to be seduced by the obvious - is already in evidence. 

The case Trave and Quaid are investigating seems open-and-shut, at least to Quaid. A 62-year-old man called Albert Morrison has been murdered, thrown over the second-floor banister in his apartment building. His daughter, Ava, had seen it happen, but didn't catch sight of the perp because of the darkness in the hallway. 

Quaid immediately suspects that the killer is Dr. Bertram Brive, Morrison's son-in-law, especially after he learns that Brive was recently named executor of Morrison's will, and that Morrison was a good deal wealthier than anyone, including his daughter, suspected. Brive also turns out to have been neglecting his medical practice, is deeply is debt, and is being blackmailed. The discovery that a cufflink found at the crime scene matches one found in a drawer at the Brives' flat seems to clinch the matter. 

Trave is not so sure. He had learned from Ava that she and her father went for a walk in the park that afternoon and that, on their return, Morrison was told by a neighbor that someone paid him a visit while they were out. The visitor left him a note. Morrison immediately had Ava call him a cab. He was killed on his return. 

Trave goes to the cab company and talks to the driver, who tells him where Morrison went. Oh, and there is also a note in Morrison's handwriting found in his pocket: "Provide detailed report. What are the chances of success? C." Just beneath the question mark is a name, but it is hard to make out. Either Hayrich or Hayrick. 

The reader shares Trave's misgivings. In fact, the reader will know whodunit - and why - even before Trave does. The suspense here lies in pinning the crime on the right suspect and preventing another from taking place. That other crime has to do with a plot to assassinate Winston Churchill, hatched by none other than Adolf Hitler himself in collaboration with Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Gestapo. 

Albert Morrison, you see, was the retired head of MI6, British secret intelligence. His visitor on the day of his death was Alec Thorn, his former assistant. Thorn also has a young assistant, the handsome and suave Charles Seaforth, whose upward mobility has been accelerated by the extraordinary intelligence he has been getting from a source quite close to the German High Command. 

It is a credit to Tolkien's narrative skill that the final 20 or 30 pages of this book are as exciting as they are, since what the reader anxiously wants to find out is how something that did not happen - Churchill was not assassinated - was prevented. 

But there is another - and equally compelling - dimension to this novel: the exploration of William Trave's character: 

Trave didn't know why he cared so much. . . . Hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of innocent people were dying in the city every night. Blown to pieces by high-explosive bombs so that sometimes there was not even a trace of their bodies . . . Why, then, should he spend his days worrying over whether Quaid had charged the wrong man with a crime? 

The answer to his question comes near the end, amid the ruins of an air raid. Trave sees a hand sticking out of a pile of rubble. He takes it in his and discovers that the hand is attached to a woman who is still alive. He tries to dig her out, but two slabs of masonry, too heavy for him to move, make further progress impossible. At first, he thinks of going for help, but realizes there just isn't enough time. So he sits down and takes hold of the woman's hand. "He squeezed it gently and felt an answering response, and then he remained where he was, summoning all the love in his soul, trying to communicate it through the medium of touch to the invisible dying woman by his side." 

Eventually, "the hand held his hard for a moment, and then relaxed, letting go," and Trave feels certain that "he had learnt more in the preceding hour than he had done in all his life." 

It seems that the real mystery being plumbed in Tolkien's Trave novels is the mystery of human decency.