Set in London during the height of the German Blitzkrieg, The Ministry of Fear: An Entertainment develops the theme of pity as an isolating and self-destructive force. The hero, Arthur Rowe, has poisoned his wife because he could not bear to watch her suffer from an incurable disease. Although the court finds him innocent of any crime, he nurses a powerful sense of guilt for his actions and continues to be driven by a disproportionate sense of responsibility for the suffering of those around him.
The novel opens with Rowe entering a local fair. He is drawn to the fair because it reminds him of his lost innocence. Despite the war raging around him, the fair affords him lush gardens and sweet smells from his childhood. Ironically, his attendance at the fair leads to his becoming a hunted man. He wins a cake that, unknown to him, contains a microfilm of secret naval plans placed there by a spy ring. When he returns home, one of the Nazi agents who constitute the Ministry of Fear visits him in an attempt to poison him. Recognizing the smell of the poison (the same one he used for his wife), Rowe realizes that someone wants to kill him for no apparent reason, turning his sense of reality into a Kafkaesque nightmare. Later, while Rowe is attending a séance, one of the guests is murdered with Rowe’s knife and Willi Hilfe, a young Austrian relief worker (who pretends to be Rowe’s friend but who actually masterminds the Nazi spy ring) advises Rowe to go underground. The murder, however, is merely a contrivance to drive Rowe into hiding. He is seriously injured when, upon...
(The entire section is 651 words.)