This is a WWII historical novel based on a real person.
Fritz Kolbe is a secretary to the number two man in the Nazi Foreign Office. He has access to top secret documents. He is disillusioned with Hitler and determines he must be stopped. He reaches out to British intelligence but is rebuffed. He then reaches out to the United States OSS and is accepted.
As part of his duties, he makes visits to the German embassy in Bern, Switzerland. He smuggles documents and shares the info with the Americans.
He gives them the exact coordinates to Hitler’s mountain retreat, Wolf’s Lair, and is highly disappointed the Allies never bomb it and kill Hitler. He is convinced the death of Hitler will mean the end of the war.
Fritz is a complex man with a unique moral code. He falls in love with a married woman, Marlene Wiese and seduces her away from her husband. Later, he shares his secret with her and she helps in his espionage.
He is also a man of fear. Consistently afraid he will be betrayed or discovered. Yet he continues on.
He refuses to join the Nazi Party and is fearful of losing his job and being persecuted or killed because of it, especially as the war turns against Germany and paranoia mounts within the regime.
He is wracked by guilt. Information he supplies leads directly to the death of his best friend and the suicide of the man’s wife.
Before the war, Fritz was assigned to South Africa. When the war begins, he must return to Germany. He is a widow with a child. Rather than expose the child to war and the Nazis, he leaves her with friends. And never contacts her during the war. Once he begins spying he has even more reason to not contact her.
A loose end at the finish is if he ever contacts her after the war.
What I like about the book:
Accuracy of the setting. We are in Berlin as Allied bombing raids devastate the city. We experience the screams and the blood, the stench of the dead, the shortages of food and other basic necessities, the suffering of the people.
We are on the train that takes Fritz to Bern and back. We see the contrast between a Berlin being bombed nearly out of existence and the peaceful beauty of Bern.
We taste his paranoia of being discovered.
We are with Fritz when the Russians and the British try to steal him from the Americans.
We are with him after the war when he lives in Switzerland, rejected by his homeland. And as he faces life with crippled Marlene who lost her leg in a bungled attempt to assassinate them. And we’re never quite sure by who.
It’s hard to like Fritz, but the author writes him so well, we have empathy for him and we can picture his sadness after the war and the unknown future ahead of him.
Well worth the read.