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Berlin, 1941. Carl von Menen is a young diplomat at the German Foreign Office. He leads an increasingly dangerous life, secretly hating the Nazis despite working with them, all hidden beneath a veneer of civil service neutrality. When Carl is posted to Buenos Aires to gather information on the emerging United Officer's Group, both his own life and that of the woman he loves are soon in grave danger.
A brilliant story about espionage in the Second World War but from the Germans' point of view.
This book is just under 500 pages long but it could have been twice as long and I still would have enjoyed every minute. Maybe the fact that I have just returned from a visit to Munich where there is so much history surrounding the Nazis, and in particular Hitler who started his horrendous dictatorship by speaking in a beer hall in the city, but this really made me realise what Germany must have been like during the war.
Carl von Menen is working in the German Foreign Office and is very proficient at his job. However, he is not a member of the Nazi party and detests everything it stands for. He is from an old German family based in Mecklenburg, which gives the book its title. However, he has Spanish ancestry and is fluent in Spanish. Unfortunately for Carl, this makes him an ideal person to be assigned to Argentina where his remit is to watch a group called the United Officers Group, a pro-Nazi faction of military officers.
His task is further complicated when on his journey over to Buenos Aries, he meets and falls in love with Dr Maria Gomez. Through her, he is brought into contact with her uncle, Filipe Vidal. Vidal's ultimate ambition is to become the President of Argentina but in order to do this he needs weapons and he enlists Carl to negotiate with the German authorities to provide these. If Carl is not successful Vidal will have no compunction in killing Maria.
This book is fast-paced and switches between Germany towards the end of the war, when everything is beginning to fall apart, to Argentina where everything is exotic. Carl is surrounded by enemies, he does not know who to trust, there are Gestapo agents everywhere in Argentina and back in Germany, there are plans afoot for the top Nazis, knowing the war is lost, to arrange getaways to South America. The ending is slightly unexpected but is going to lead to another book.
What makes this book so different from any other 'spy' type of novel is reading it from the German side of things. I think we are all well aware of what theNazis were capable during the war but we do not normally see events from the 'ordinary' German person's perspective. Carl is a proud German and is doing a difficult job to the best of his ability but he despises the ruling party. He is a man alone, surrounded by enemies, and he cannot even confide in the woman he loves. There must have been many German people who were horrified at what their country had become but were powerless to express their feelings knowing that would lead to a concentration camp or death. Who can say how many of us in the same circumstances would have behaved?
I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone with even a fleeting interest in the 2nd World War, but it also stands alone as a great read and story. I await the sequel with bated breath!
Dexter, Breakaway Reviewers