Wilson (A Small Death in Lisbon, 2000, etc.) uses the hopeless love affair between an amateur British agent and a desperate German officer to focus on two generations of European espionage, treachery, and double-dealing.
Before the Blitz, mathematician Andrea Aspinall had led a sheltered life. Only the horrific death of her piano teacher, who had taken the place of the Portuguese father she never knew, makes her ripe for recruitment to the Company, as her mother’s colleagues clannishly call themselves. Her knowledge of German and Portuguese makes her the ideal ingénue, disguised as “Anne Ashworth,” to infiltrate suspect Irish businessman Patrick Wilshere’s house in a Lisbon suburb in summer 1944 and nose out any traces of the industrial diamonds the Company is convinced are being sold to the Reich as precision parts in bomb manufacture. Meanwhile, Captain Karl Voss, already compromised by his unwitting role in the bombing of a Reichsminister’s airplane, has been sent as military attaché to the Lisbon legation. Like Andrea, Voss has been recruited to a cause: the assassination of Hitler on 20 July. When the two agents bump into each other, the chemistry is instantaneous. But the course of true love is disrupted by shifting loyalties, betrayals by higher-ups, the failure of the assassination attempt, and a massacre that spells the end of their lives in Portugal. This part of the story is a heartrending tale, unfolded with loving patience and rising tension. In the second, shorter part—which begins 24 years later with another round of deaths and Andrea’s recruitment once more to the life she thought she’d left behind when she’s sent to East Germany on a new mission for a new set of masters—Wilson overplays his hand, and the requisite plot twists upset the delicate balance of geopolitics and emotional intimacy.
Even so, half of one of Wilson’s loaves is more nourishing than most of his competition.