In Downes’ (When Johnny Came Marching, 2012) novel, two Nazi spies with differing views of the morality of war secretly try to make it to America’s heartland with an FBI agent on their trail.
In 1942, Col. Lukas Schott and Maj. Rebekka Bader are unlikely partners. Schott, a well-to-do minor royal figure in his native Germany, steels himself for the casualties inherent to what he views as a justified war. Bader, on the other hand, is out for blood; the war is merely her pretense for destruction. Immediately upon arriving on American soil after a clandestine sea voyage, Bader begins leaving a trail of bloody corpses in her wake. She swears these killings are in service of their mission—namely to capture the prized Norden bombsight in Minnesota, which would aid the Nazi war effort on the ground and in the air—but Schott has his doubts. He feels that the conspicuous nature of his partner’s crimes will lead to their downfall and worse: the failure of the mission. Shortly after the first blood is spilled, FBI Chief Inspector Lorenzo Tharp is dispatched and quickly begins putting together the pieces of the pair’s murderous journey. They only have a few days to escape with the bombsight before their plan goes awry, and Tharp needs to track them down or risk severe damage to the Allied war effort. The novel is a well-worn reprisal of the nefarious-duo-fleeing-the-law variety, but there are some slants here that make it more interesting, particularly the moral disagreements between Schott and Bader. Schott is all about honor; Bader sees her victims as useless, soulless Americans. Tharp, however, is less intriguing, serving as a stereotype of the aging, curmudgeonly detective. Though fast paced, the story’s rhythm sometimes serves to detract from the plot, especially with Bader’s actions—making up aliases on the fly and repeatedly lying to her partner—appearing reckless to the point of being unbelievable, particularly coming from a highly trained operative.
A slightly contrived espionage yarn that still unspools nicely.