From the internationally best-selling author of Fatherland and the Cicero Trilogy--a new spy thriller about treason and conscience, loyalty and betrayal, set against the backdrop of the fateful Munich Conference of September, 1938.
Guy Legat is a rising star of the British diplomatic service, serving in 10 Downing Street as a private secretary to the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. Rikard von Holz is on the staff of the German Foreign Office--and secretly a member of the anti-Hitler resistance. The two men were friends at Oxford in the 1920s, but have not been in contact since. Now, when Guy flies with Chamberlain from London to Munich, and Rikard travels on Hitler's train overnight from Berlin, their paths are set on a disastrous collision course. And once again, Robert Harris gives us actual events of historical importance--here are Hitler, Chamberlain, Mussolini, Daladier--at the heart of an electrifying, un-put-downable novel.
“If I were convinced that any nation had made up its mind to dominate the world by fear of its force, I should feel that it must be resisted. Under such a domination, life for people who believe in liberty would not be worth living. But war is a fearful thing, and we must be very clear, before we embark on it, that it is really the great issues that are at stake, and that the call to risk everything in their defense, when all the consequences are weighed, is irresistible.”
― Robert Harris
Set shortly before WWII in 1938, fear is the tool that fuels the minds and hearts of political leaders and people. Gas masks are fitted for children in London, trenches are dug and fighter plane capabilities are sorted out. Hitler wants to expand Germany and demands the Sudetenland region by Czechoslovakia to be taken with via surprise attack.
Timely among factual events happening in the world, the narrative is told by the views of two main fictional characters, one British and one German. Hugh Legat, senior diplomat for the British delegation speaks German fluently, and Paul von Hartman, part of Hitler’s diplomats. The two men know each other and have been friends since their studies at Oxford University.
What becomes eminent close to the beginning is the fact that Hartman is part of a group of military officials in Berlin that wants to overthrow their German leader. The two characters could not be more different from one another, as Legat seems the demurer one and Hartman risks his life in his endeavor to pass Hitler’s plans on to the British in his aid.
Focused less on military strategy, this novel gives a glance and the ‘what if’ situation that could have perhaps changed the course of history. It implies the idea that if there had been such undertaking as the two characters in the novel working together courageously spying and passing on information and actually acted at the right momentum, all could have been different. Very well researched, Harris took a lesser known event that happened in Munich and spun this fictional novel of a crisis that could have been averted intoMunich.
“Legat was praying that Hartmann would be there. He was not sure what he could offer God in return, but it would be something, he promised Him—a different life, a fresh start, a gesture equal to the age.”
― Robert Harris
Hartman is glad to find out that Legat is on his way to Munich to attend the diplomatic meeting between Minister Neville Chamberlain and Hitler in an attempt to preserve peace in Europe. Hitler signs the agreement “to never go to war with one another again” and Chamberlain feels assured that peace will be achieved.
“I am not a pacifist. The main lesson I have learned in my dealings with Hitler is that one simply can’t play poker with a gangster if one has no cards in one’s hand.”
― Robert Harris
The novel gives an atmospheric glance of its time and place. While we learn more in depth what the different characters are made off it gives way to the sultry and rich read it is. There are many nuances and details that depict Hitler’s demands and expectations spread throughout the novel. It touches on his relationships, hygiene, aesthetics and intimidations.
The two main characters have their personal struggles along the way. Harris’s way of ending chapters on little cliffhangers makes this read almost a page turner. Almost….this book was in the middle lane for me. I don’t love it, but by interest I am bound to like it. I appreciate the authors note at the end with all the research that went into the making of this novel. This was my first of his novels, and ambitiously I may tackle ‘Fatherland’ in the future.