Another fantastic book from Alex Gerlis, whose Richard Prince novels are as fine fiction as I’ve ever read.
We’re back to Berlin and more spying, except this time, it’s a bona fide ring of spies, cast from diverse characters living in Berlin.
Barnaby Allen is recruited to the spy game and tasked with setting up a network of spies in Berlin after the Nazis have taken hold but before the invasion of Poland in 1939. He also encourages those recruits to be on the lookout for others who may be willing to engage in a very dangerous game as well.
His very first recruit is a gay German citizen and businessman, Werner Lustenberger, who is affable, charming, and about as Bondian a spy as it gets in Gerlis’ world. He befriends, and then beds a member of the SS, among other things.
American Jack Miller joins the ring of spies, having come to Berlin to cover the Olympics, and who stays to write travel and sports pieces, which allows him to go practically anywhere with a ready-made reason to be there. He gets friendly with the Reich’s sports minister, who gives him additional protection when he wanders out of bounds a couple of times.
There’s Sophie, sick of her high ranking SS husband, and who finds the husband’s personal diaries and realizes the horrific things he’s doing. Though afraid, she’s able and willing to do the things the spywork requires: taking pictures of various places, getting people out of the country, and so on.
And there’s the saddest spy ever: Tadashi Kimura, a diplomat at the Japanese embassy in Berlin, who, in his words, commits treason for the sake of love.
Spycraft abounds: secret meeting places, coded phone calls, and, as the years roll by, an ever-tightening, claustrophobic feeling that the next encounter could be game over for the spies. For some of them, alas, it is.
It’s a fascinating read that at points may feel slow but isn’t: the slower areas are just a pause, so the various pieces can be put into place before setting the board in motion once more.
Highly recommended, and five stars out of five.
Thanks to Canelo and NetGalley for the reading copy.