BOOK REVIEW / The last words of a mystic: Secret Germany - Michael Baignent, Richard Leight Jonathan Cape pounds 16.99

SLIM and good-looking in the mildly homo-erotic style of the period, Lieutenant- Colonel Claus Philipp Maria Schenk, Graf von Stauffenberg, has become the best-known martyr of German resistance to National Socialism.

There are two reasons why this incredibly brave, anguished, Catholic aristocrat, who planted the bomb which almost destroyed Hitler in July 1944, has been elevated to such heights. The first is quite simply that he deserved it.

The second is that there is (pace the gallent few) something of a shortage of prominent German anti-Nazi heroes. It is worth remembering that it took a decade, and hundreds of thousands of corpses, to impose totalitarianism on an unwilling Russian empire. The mass of Germans embraced Nazi-ism - or at least acquiesced. In the early years its excesses were seen as the price to be paid for national revival. Later, many saw resistance to the advancing Red Army as the national imperative. This is the context in which von Stauffenberg's early distaste for the brutality of Nazidom evolved to the point of accepting a central role in an elaborate conspiracy to kill the Fuhrer and sieze control of the state.

Baignent and Leigh work at the frontier between scholarship and conspiracy theory: their best known books are The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception. This, their latest, is sub-titled Claus von Stauffenberg and the Mystical Crusade Against Hitler, but the 'mystical crusade' turns out to be little more than a recognition of the group of idealistic and patriotic young men, including von Stauffenberg and his brothers, who gathered around the highly regarded poet Stefan George in the Twenties. They took strange oaths of loyalty to him and studied 'esoteric knowledge' as well as George's Christianity-without- Christ poetry which culminated in an impenetrable but apocalyptic work 'Geheimes Deutschland' (Secret Germany).

Some have suggested this poem contained coded instructions for a future anti-Nazi crusade. The only evidence produced here to support the theory is the claim that - as he was shot in an inner courtyard of the War Office - von Stauffenberg cried, not as reported, 'Long live our sacred (heiliges) Germany' but 'Long live our secret (geheimes) Germany'. It is thin stuff and unbalances an otherwise calm and well- researched book.