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Ann and Peter, circled, with other evacuees.
At first glance, it is an utterly benign and heart-warming story, a tale of child-rescue and salvation, of friendship across the ocean at a time of war. And for those involved, especially the children sheltered from Hitler’s bombs by one of America’s most prestigious universities, it was no more complicated than that: an act of altruistic, life-saving generosity. And yet this story might have a twist, a suspicion that somewhere behind this deed of great kindness lurked a darker motive.

The story – which forms the backdrop of my new novel, Pantheon, published under the pseudonym Sam Bourne – begins in the mid-summer of 1940, with Britain isolated and alone against the Nazi menace. The nations of Europe had fallen in succession to the Germans, with the Low Countries and France conquered a matter of weeks earlier. To an extent that is barely appreciated now, Britons felt they were near-certain to be next, that it was only a matter of time before there were Nazi jackboots on British streets.

That was certainly the fear among the fellows and dons of...