Silent Lies begins in 1910, when ten-year-old Leopold Hoffman, son of a Jewish Hungarian blacksmith, meets the new schoolmaster. Leo’s special gift, an intuitive understanding of foreign languages, earns him a ticket out of his backward village to Budapest, where he receives an education and is exposed to refined society. Leo is taken into the army to serve as a soldier in World War I. He returns home to find his family penniless. He becomes a concierge at Budapest’s finest hotel, where he meets important men who hire him as an interpreter for their business in Paris. All is not as it seems: the trip is disastrous, and Leo flees to Shanghai, but not before meeting Martha, the love of his life. In Shanghai, Leo makes a fortune and sends for Martha. They are happy until the stock market crash of 1929. Now destitute with a child on the way, Leo resorts to working for a gangster. As America is poised to enter World War II, Leo is recruited by the OSS.
This is just a précis of Leo’s adventures. Ms. Malcolm paints a vivid picture of the time and place and gives an excellent characterization of a complicated hero. Leopold Hoffman is at once an opportunist, pragmatist, outlaw, loving husband, and caring father. Despite the coy last line, this is an excellent first book.