This third in a series finds Anglo-American John Russell with his days in Berlin clearly numbered. Although Nazi Germany is victorious on all fronts, the first cracks in their success are beginning to show. The prospect of the impending war between Japan and the United States will almost certainly result in his expulsion from the country. Cracks in his personal life are apparent as well. His actress girl friend Effi is becoming increasingly disenchanted with her role in Goebbels’ propaganda machine, while his son Paul is spending more and more time with the Hitler youth. Intrigues between German intelligence and the Gestapo threaten to pull him in, as does his curiosity about just where those transports of Jews actually go. Throw in a collaborating American who is murdered on his way to see John, as well as echoes from his own Communist past, and life in Berlin is becoming intolerably precarious. The question is, can he and his lover Effi escape?
The author is at his best with setting and historical detail, and this novel does not disappoint. His sharply drawn descriptions of daily life within the beleaguered Nazi capital ring true, as do the characters who inhabit it. His sense of place is outstanding, and is the main reason to read his work. The plot, though, in this installment, is a different matter. Not that it is poorly done, but the novel is basically a transition from the previous two to a new reality for the subsequent volumes. As such, it does not quite stand on its own. Even the important revelations of American corporate complicity in making the Nazi war machine, as well as information regarding the final fate of the Jews, fails to detract from what is, in its essence, the attempted escape of John and Effi from Berlin. A good story to be sure, but one that should be read only after completing at least one of the preceding volumes.