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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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