Well written fictional account of relatively unknown WW2 spy.
Written by German author Andreas Kollender, this book is based on the life of Fritz Kolbe a member of the German Diplomatic Service during World War 2 who had access to top secret information. He provided this information to the Allies for ideological reasons and not for personal gain and smuggled hundreds of top-secret files to American intelligence from 1943 onwards, continuing undetected until the end of the war.
Allen Dulles, who became head of the CIA , but then an OSS officer in Switzerland said of Kolbe “No single diplomat abroad, of whatever rank, could have got his hands on so much information as did this man; he was one of my most valuable agents during World War II.”
Although based on Kolbe, the book doesn’t follow his personal life exactly and certainly creates a fiction that allow the author to portray more depth to the man in his personal life and struggles with his conscience.
The book is framed within a fictional post-war interview with a pair of journalists and starts with Kolbe in South Africa at the declaration of war which is interesting in itself, showing how German embassy and legation staff were treated upon the outbreak of war.
There’s good colour to the OSS station on Berne with some of the early career of Allen Dulles being illustrated as well as the contrasts between life in neutral Switzerland versus late war Germany.
Steve Anderson has translated this book from the German and he’s done a great job as the text flows well and moves along at a good pace. Whilst I’d not call it an absolute page turner, the author keeps the tension as the fear of capture and death increases with each day.
If I had to criticise anything it would have been the use of Kolbe’s real name alongside an obvious fiction. Although all history is subject to someone’s interpretation, I have mixed feelings around taking the name of a real person of honour and heroism and creating fiction around them, especially as a fictitious name appears to be used for Kolbe’s friend in Bern.
That being said, this was as entertaining read and a good insight into the quandaries and challenges that faced Kolbe during World War 2.
I was given a copy of this book by the publisher, but was not compelled to write a positive review.