The Honest Spy

Written by Andreas Kollender Steve Anderson (trans.)
Review by Lucille Cormier

Fritz Kolbe, the honest spy, is not a fictional character. He was a high-level official in the German Foreign Office during WWII. As such, he had access to highly classified Nazi documents which, out of conscience, he offered to the CIA. His controller was Allen Dulles. The Honest Spy is a fictional account of this time.

The story is set mainly in Berlin and Bern. It is a story within a story that begins “a few years after the war” at Kolbe’s isolated cabin in the Swiss mountains. He has agreed to an interview with a young couple, a reporter and a photographer. From the framework of the interview, we are taken back to detailed scenes from Kolbe’s double life as earnest, trustworthy bureaucrat and dangerous, duplicitous spy.

The Honest Spy conveys a very real sense of life in Berlin during the last two years of the Reich. Kollander’s descriptions, not at all maudlin, match photos of the devastated city during Allied bombing. He also captures the pathos of an equally devastated population. Along the same lines, I thought the author did an especially good job walking us in Kolbe’s shoes, so to speak. We feel the crushing weight of his conflicts of values, his wartime love affair, and deep personal losses. All in all, I would rate this as an exceptionally good novel. My only difficulty was with some rough transitions from interview scenes to memory scenes, which didn’t spoil the reading. If you enjoy WWII history and a good spy thriller, I would go for it.