There are any number of books, fact and fiction, that have World War 2 as either their subject or backdrop. Few enough are set in the epicentre of the aggressor nation. In her debut novel Britt Skrabanek transports us to war-time Berlin in a fast-moving and intriguing tale.
We don’t arrive there by conventional means either. A modern young American woman suffers from bad dreams, realistic flashbacks reminiscent of shell-shock that do little for her quality of life. One morning she awakes in the bed of a high-ranking Nazi. The year is 1943 and she is a spy behind enemy lines living the life of a night-club singer. Her spymaster Emil is strangely and intimately familiar and, through him, her mission becomes clearer. Alina has a week left to take advantage of her position to collect top secret information and pass it on to a courier.
And the spy Alina has a past. Having been taken to America as a child by her unloving mother she finds her way back to her father in Germany, aged just eight. At school she is adopted as a friend by the glamorous Sonja who plays a big part in the drama that follows.
Alina survives several scrapes through luck and her innate wit, gathers the top secret information and prepares to deliver it to the courier. The story builds along with the tension as Alina performs at the Café Rouge, an excellent depiction of an evening in a clandestine drinking club in downtown Berlin.
I won’t spoil the denouement. Suffice to say it is at once exciting, tense and clever. When you think you have had the last twist then Skrabanek gives you another. And she pulls off the rare feat of an ending that is both happy and sad.
The story keeps you on your toes but once you accept there are two separate realities (or are there?) you can enjoy the read without worrying too much about it. Just the right amount of sex and violence too. I do like the way that Skrabanek doesn’t always provide the answers – for example it’s only when Alina steps up to the mic that she realises she doesn’t know what to sing! But both protagonist and author deal with it neatly.
I loved it. (And Britt, I had Sonja figured out from the beginning!)