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THE ARMS MAKER OF BERLIN  by Dan Fesperman

THE ARMS MAKER OF BERLIN

By Dan Fesperman

Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-307-26837-2
Publisher: Knopf

Thriller veteran Fesperman (The Amateur Spy, 2008, etc.) sets his protagonist to track the lives of six people caught up in World War II through a dangerous present-day archive.

The author finds new life in old clues (invisible ink, a book holding a pressed rose) as he constructs an intricate plot. Nat Turnbull, a professor of modern German history, learns that Pennsylvania police stormed into the home of his mentor, Gordon Wolfe, and removed files containing the records of intelligence work Wolfe did concerning German resistance efforts during World War II. Waiting in the shadows of the library where Turnbull works stands an FBI agent who wants him to examine the files, which reputedly contain explosive secrets about the war. Turnbull discovers that four folders—the most important ones, of course—are missing. Conveniently enough, Berta Heinkel of Berlin’s Free University appears, offering to help Turnbull find the documents. Can he trust her? (Can German women in spy novels ever be trusted?) He thinks not when he finds someone has made off with vital laptop files in his hotel room while he was across the hall having sex with her. Heinkel sets Turnbull after Kurt Bauer, survivor of a German munitions family much like the Krupps. In ongoing flashbacks, which sometimes overlap and repeat points from the main plot, Bauer joins and ultimately betrays the German resistance movement known as White Rose. Then Bauer crosses to Bern, Switzerland, which here seems nearly as central to war activity as Berlin. Personal motives outweigh ideological ones as Bauer plays one side against the other to keep his family, which has Jewish ancestry, out of the concentration camps. In a poignant denouement, Turnbull brings together five of the six survivors caught up in Bauer’s plotting, their war wounds forever tender.

Well-crafted entertainment that also delivers complex truths about warfare and survival.