WHEN history becomes too strange to be true, author Syd Moore steps in to write a spellbinding book about it.

The prolific Leigh-based author, who is best known for her Essex Witch Museum Mysteries series, has taken a seemingly different route with her latest novel The Grand Illusion which is based on secret agents in World War Two.

However, it soon becomes clear that the aficionado on everything to do with Essex witches, has tapped into a new resource of mystical history within the British secret service.

Echo: Intriguing novel - Syd MooreIntriguing novel - Syd Moore (Image: Syd Moore)

In 1940, when Britain is at risk of imminent invasion, the Secret Service were determined to exploit Hitler’s belief in occult (mystical, supernatural, or magical powers) in order to prevent the Nazi invasion.

There was a rapid recruitment of people such as poets, theatre managers, academics, painters, circus manages, theatre performers to become secret agents.

In the novel the main character Daphne Devine is a stage assistant who becomes an agent and joins the war effort in a series of counter-espionage missions.

“The character Daphne is from Leigh and she is knowledgeable about the history of Essex witches in the area and is an expert illusionist,” explained Syd.

“I worked with Julie Miller from the Combined Military Services Museum in Maldon, Essex and went to see the display of gadgets the secret agents used to use. The research informed the clothes Daphne wears, she is chic and has a lipstick revolver and blades in her collar and belt – like real life agents used to have.”

The climax of the novel draws on an actual event, alleged to have taken place in the New Forest in the summer of 1940.

“In my research I came across a ritual called ‘The Cone of Power’ that is supposed to have taken place in the New Forest in 1940. Nobody knows if it actually happened but there is a theory that ‘all the witches of England’ gathered for the benefit of German spies in the area, to convince them that Britain had magical, supernatural powers.”

The Grand Illusion is published by Magpie, an imprint of Oneworld. It will be available to buy in April 2024 in hardback for £16.99.