World War II in Europe would have come to a far different conclusion if Hitler had been able to conclude peace talks with any of his three major adversaries. Peace initiatives were tentatively broached with both the Soviets and the Americans following Germany’s crushing defeat at Stalingrad. Philip Kerr uses this as his starting point to present a thriller based on Hitler’s presence at secret peace talks with FDR and Stalin at the real life Allied conference at Teheran in 1943.
Kerr’s protagonist, Willard Mayer, is a former Soviet agent and Harvard philosopher working for the OSS as a German translator. Recruited by President Roosevelt to investigate the Soviet killing of Polish officers in the Katyn Forrest, Mayer is shortly taken into FDR’s inner circle for the ocean voyage to the Middle East. On board the USS Iowa, Mayer becomes convinced foreign agents are conspiring to assassinate at least one member of the Big Three. The action goes from the American battleship to British-occupied Egypt where our intrepid philosopher is framed for murder. His relentless pursuit of the conspiracy eventually results in his being present in Teheran where he, and the reader, are shocked to see the tale take unexpected twists.
The novel takes us from the inner chambers of Heinrich Himmler’s domain to the scandal-ridden U.S. State Department to the homicidal world of Beria, Stalin’s most vicious killer. Although some readers may wish for a more straightforward plot, the story does have its fair share of excitement. Minor historical errors (e.g., the highest decoration in World War I awarded to “Wild Bill” Donovan was the Medal of Honor, not the Distinguished Service Cross; the main gun for the Panther tank was a 75mm, not the famous 88mm) do not detract from an otherwise well constructed novel.