During the Nazi occupation of Paris, an architect devises ingenious hiding places for Jews.
In architect Belfoure’s fiction debut, the architectural and historical details are closely rendered, while the characters are mostly sketchy stereotypes. Depraved Gestapo colonel Schlegal and his torturer lackeys and thuggish henchmen see their main goal as tracking down every last Jew in Paris who has not already been deported to a concentration camp. Meanwhile, Lucien, an opportunistic architect whose opportunities have evaporated since 1940, when the Germans marched into Paris, is desperate for a job—so desperate that when industrialist Manet calls upon him to devise a hiding place for a wealthy Jewish friend, he accepts, since Manet can also offer him a commission to design a factory. While performing his factory assignment (the facility will turn out armaments for the Reich), Lucien meets kindred spirit Herzog, a Wehrmacht officer with a keen appreciation of architectural engineering, who views capturing Jews as an ill-advised distraction from winning the war for Germany. The friendship makes Lucien’s collaboration with the German war effort almost palatable—the money isn’t that good. Bigger payouts come as Manet persuades a reluctant Lucien to keep designing hideouts. His inventive cubbyholes—a seamless door in an ornamental column, a staircase section with an undetectable opening, even a kitchen floor drain—all help Jews evade the ever-tightening net of Schlegal and his crew. However, the pressure on Lucien is mounting. A seemingly foolproof fireplace contained a disastrous fatal flaw. His closest associates—apprentice Alain and mistress Adele—prove to have connections to the Gestapo, and, at Manet’s urging, Lucien has adopted a Jewish orphan, Pierre. The Resistance has taken him for short drives to warn him about the postwar consequences of collaboration, and his wife, Celeste, has left in disgust. Belfoure wastes no time prettying up his strictly workmanlike prose. As the tension increases, the most salient virtue of this effort—the expertly structured plot—emerges.
A satisfyingly streamlined World War II thriller.