ANDREW FFRENCH talks to Oxford author Andrew Rosenheim, whose latest novel, a dark 1930s thriller featuring young FBI agent Jimmy Nessheim, looks set to put him on the fiction map.

WHEN fledgling American football star Jimmy Nessheim gets a career-ending injury he joins Hoover’s FBI.

Now Oxford writer Andrew Rosenheim is hoping the undercover investigator, the hero in his sixth novel, will help him reach fiction’s big league.

Rosenheim, from Boars Hill, is half way there already having signed for publishing giant Random House.

And the publishers enjoyed Rosenheim’s latest novel Fear Itself so much that they have asked him to write two sequels featuring the young special agent.

Rosenheim came to England as a Rhodes scholar in 1977 and has lived in England ever since.

His previous novels include Stillriver, Keeping Secrets and Without Prejudice, but Fear Itself is a change of direction and the author'’s latest work has prompted some literary pundits to compare Rosenheim to bestseller Robert Harris, whose novel Fatherland occupied similar territory.

“Random House are keen for me to continue with Jimmy Nessheim so I have agreed a two-book deal and I'm keeping my fingers crossed,” says Rosenheim.

Fear Itself is set in the late 1930s as America slowly pulls itself out of the depression.

War is looming in Europe, but in America, with 40 million citizens of German ancestry, there is a great desire to stay out of the fight.

Jimmy Nessheim is assigned to inflitrate a new German-American organisation called the Bund.

Pro-Nazi, it is conspiring to sabotage President Roosevelt’s efforts to stop Hitler’s advance.

As Nessheim’s investigation takes him to the very heart of the Bund, it becomes increasingly clear that something far more sinister is at work, which seems to lead directly to the White House.

The young agent is eventually drawn into the centre of Washington high society and finds himself caught up in a web of political intrigue.

Rosenheim has delivered a compelling thriller and his American background enables him to get the locations just right as Nessheim flits across the States, taking in some big cities along the way, including Chicago and San Francisco.

The author, who is married with twin girls aged 13, was one of Penguin Books’ top men until he quit about nine years ago to become a full-time writer.

He was one of the Oxfordshire commuters hurt in the Paddington rail crash in 1999 and the tragedy made him rethink his priorities in life.

Rosenheim says he did lots of research for his latest novel in a number of different libraries, including Abingdon Library and the Bodleian in Oxford.

“It took me about two years to write this book,” Rosenheim tells The Guide.

“I did a lot of research because I needed to find out about the FBI and wanted to be confident that I’d got all the locations right.

“There can be a temptation to use too much research but you don’t want to bludgeon the reader.

“I did an awful lot of reading but I didn’t want that to come across – I wanted the research to go unnoticed while I evoked the atmosphere of the time.

“The novel was 160,000 words to start with but I cut it back to 120,000.

“The next book will be set after Pearl Harbour and then Nessheim will go to Hollywood.

“Nessheim starts off a little bit green but he gets less so as time goes on.”

* Fear Itself by Andrew Rosenheim is published by Hutchinson, for £14.99.