A young American student living in Berlin during the rise of the Nazis turns to a life of espionage in O’Bryon’s debut novel.
Ryan Lemmon seems like the perfect all-American 20th-century man. Raised in affluence in western Kansas, he’s a star athlete and a graduate of the prestigious Harvard School of Business. While in his mid-20s and living in New York City, he receives an assignment to go to Berlin, on a stipend, to study finance at the famous Friedrich Wilhelm University. After the 1929 stock market collapse, he switches gears to a life of academia, soaking in the sights and sounds of Germany, taking tea with his aristocratic host family and observing the underclass neighborhoods for his own sociological amusement. Before long, though, the country’s political strife reaches a boiling point as the National Socialists, led by a charismatic young orator named Adolf Hitler, fight for control of a crumbling, embittered nation. Meanwhile, Ryan watches from the sidelines, reporting back to a paper in Kansas City. In February 1931, he attends a rally with his new girlfriend and fellow reporter Isabel in the working-class Berlin neighborhood of Wedding, where violence erupts between the Nazis and the Communists, and the pair is forced to fight their way to freedom. From this moment on, Ryan knows that he can no longer be a passive observer, and his entree into high-risk espionage begins. The narrative then takes flight, spanning the rise of the Third Reich and the beginning of the horrors that led to the Holocaust, culminating in the infamous Kristallnacht in November 1938. The novel is rife with historical intrigue and captures the flavor of mid-century Europe. Throughout, the author has a keen eye for detail, which will be a delight for Europhiles and World War II buffs alike. Although the prose isn’t particularly electric or original, it’s clean and clear and stays out of the way of the espionage elements that are the novel’s true focus. The plot perhaps takes a bit too much time to get rolling, but readers will likely forgive this minor flaw in light of the novel’s rich scene-setting.
An intriguing early WWII spy yarn set in a well-researched, authentic Germany.