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Ratings and Book Reviews ()

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  • Excellent spy fiction set in post-war Germany

    I loved this book. It had everything I could want in a non-fantasy book: some history, food and recipes, German, international relations, some moral quandaries, not too little jeopardy and a great array of characters. I fell in love with the main character, Edith, as soon as she was introduced. She was everything I would hope to be, if ever in her situation: kind, resourceful, always willing to help, judging people on their merit – not their race or nationality, standing up for those less fortunate than herself – and a good cook! At the end of WWII, Edith wanted to escape from her humdrum existence in England, go to Germany and put her language and teaching skills to use, to help in the rebuilding of a post-Nazi Germany. Her ‘cousin’, Leo, a member of the British intelligence service, convinces her to combine her new job with some low-grade spying, to root out Nazi sympathisers: “People get the wrong end of the stick about intelligence work. Most of it’s done by perfectly unexceptional types: businessmen, travel agents, teachers, clerks, typists, shop assistants, anybody really. Ordinary men – and women. It’s mostly a matter of keeping eyes and ears open, passing on information. Women are excellent at it. Superior intuition.” In particular, Leo wants Edith to locate her ex-boyfriend, Kurt, who is wanted because of his participation in the Nazi euthanasia project and for appalling medical ‘tests’ on Jews and other captive persons. Edith slips easily into her new role. She has had an alter ego for many years – a more glamorous ‘Bunbury’, who gives her an excuse to escape, on occasion, to London to visit friends, have fun, and to indulge her passion for food writing: “She sent her recipes as Stella Snelling, hiding behind the pseudonym’s anonymity. She didn’t want anyone at home to know and she liked the idea of Stella as much as she disliked the way people made judgements about her based on her job and her unmarried status.” Her recipe collecting acts as a cover in Germany and as a code for relaying information back to England. It also focusses her mind and gives her a non-threatening way of approaching strangers: “Food reveals a great deal. It also serves to fix the memory. Better than a diary. Even years later, the recall is instant.” Unlike many of her compatriots in Bremen, Edith is all too aware that not every German was a Nazi sympathiser. She likes to give people the benefit of the doubt, though usually still keeping her eyes and ears open – judging them on their actions, and interactions with others, not relying on the Persilschein that many brandish to prove that they are whiter-than-white. The characters in the book are seldom all-good or all-evil – each has their flaws, vices and redemptive qualities (except perhaps, Kurt). At each point you ask yourself – what would (could) I have done in those strained times. “She knew plenty who would have joined in without question, more who would have done nothing. She knew of very few who would have dared to do anything when faced with the threat of the Gestapo and the concentration camp.” Edith’s spying job is not straightforward. Leo is not the only person wanting to find Kurt and other ‘ex’-Nazis. Dori (Hungarian, ex-resistance) needs to find out what happened to the girls she sent into occupied France. She and Harry Hirsch (Latvian Jew) want to bring war criminals to justice. Leo, McHale (American) and the Soviets want the more ‘useful’ Nazis to work with/for them in the new Cold War. Adeline (American photographer) needs to keep her bosses happy or they will send her home. Edith must decide what information to share with whom: “‘That’s more or less what McHale said. No one’s interested in going after them any more, punishing them for what they’ve done.’ ‘We (Harry) are, Edith.’ He took her hands and held them tightly. ‘We are.’ His eyes took on a sudden, dark intensity. ‘We are a patient people. We remember for millennia. They will never be safe from us. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far they run.’” There is a devastating twist near the end, followed by another right at the end. Neither of which I saw coming. This is a very well written and researched book, with great characters and outstanding historical atmosphere. I highly recommend it. I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

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  • Interesting backdrop, people and plot unbelievable

    I enjoyed the portrayal of Germany immediately after the war but found the plots between the various countries agendas barely believable, and I view particularly the actions and outcome at the end of the book not credible. For somebody who had signed the OSA and was involved in such a complex situation Edith was portrayed as someone who would confide in almost anyone.

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  • WW2 spy thriller with recipes is a bit overdone

    Edith Graham, a teacher, goes to Germany after the end of WWII to help rebuild schools and reform the Nazi education system. Her cousin Leo was something hush-hush in SOE and has not only encouraged but actively lobbied for Edith to go. Leo has asked her to keep her eyes and ears to the ground for any hints of Nazis in hiding, especially Kurt von Stabenow, a former lover of Edith's who was involved in the torture and murder of prisoners for medical research purposes, and his wife Elisabeth. Then two acquaintances also ask Edith to search Germany for Kurt, they tell Edith that the British establishment is less concerned with punishing Kurt (and others like him) and more concerned with harnessing his knowledge and research for their own purposes as the world slides into the Cold War. These women, Vera and Dori, want to know what happened to four British female spies who were captured almost as soon as they landed in enemy territory and never seen again. Vera and Dori suspect that there was an enemy agent deep in SOE and they want justice for these women, they want Kurt put on trial for war crimes and hanged. Soon Edith, an innocent aboard, is mixed up in Cold War politics as the victorious allies each try to leverage the Nazi scientists' knowledge. She sees the pitiful state of the defeated German people, and all the displaced persons fleeing Eastern Europe from the Russians, the black market dealings and the people ready to exploit. Pushed and pulled by friends she makes, each of whom has an ulterior motive, Edith covertly reports back to Dori by way of a cipher hidden in recipes which she sends back home, using her existing alter-ego Stella Snelling who wrote war-time recipes for a newspaper. I wanted to like this book, and parts of it were very well written and engrossing. However, it felt as if there were too many ingredients, or (to take the cookery motif further) as though this had started off as one thing and then evolved into something else. For example, every chapter starts with a recipe, gleaned from Edith's interactions with Allied occupiers, German people and refugees from the East. These are supposed to be a code, but the code was never clearly explained and it appeared highly coincidental that Edith was able to send a coded message about current events using a recipe which she had just obtained - ie she just received a Latvian recipe the week she wanted to send a message about a Latvian refugee. There was a 'romance' with a Jewish Allied soldier which just didn't ring true, he and Edith seemed to fall in love almost at first sight. Also the story was framed by events in 1989 which were intended to be cryptic. The problem was that I had totally forgotten the opening chapter by the time I got to the end of the book and had to reread it, so all the casual misdirection was totally wasted and, if I had kept the opening chapter front and centre it would have made it simpler for me to know who Edith could trust, thus destroying the suspense of the rest of the book. Overall, I don't think the book needed the recipes or the 1989 wrap-around, and I had some questions as to why wait until 1989, the scenes in Germany were completely harrowing and didn't need the additional quirks. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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  • A Real Thriller

    I would highly recommend this book. Excellent story, fast paced and interesting history post WW2. Hope this author will write something as good in the future.

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