Munich by Robert Harris is one of those readable novels you can devour in one go. This perhaps surprising as we all know what happened in Munich in 1938. The main story is of the collusion between Hugh Legat, an aspiring diplomat in the Foreign Office, and his friend at Oxford Paul von Hartmann, a senior translator in the German delegation in seeking the downfall of Hitler. Otherwise the characters and events are real.
Munich is extraordinary – possibly unique – as a historic event as at the time it was greeted by mass euphoria but after the war Neville Chamberlain became the most denigrated symbol of appeasement. The picture emerges of Chamberlain as an old (he was 70 at the time of Munich and probably already had cancer) decent man doing his utmost to avoid the horrors of a war, whose memories were vivid given it ended 20 years before Munich. Chamberlain misread Hitler and Legat and Hartmann do their best to convince him of the reality of the global ambitions of Hitler but, aside from avoiding mass conflict, Britain was ill prepared for war. On finishing the novel I felt history has been too harsh on Chamberlain and, given the number of reassessments of Winston Churchill, one is overdue for Chamberlain.
Most of the novel takes place in Munich with topical detail. We do get the build up and the intrigue of Hartmann. The Junker class and Wehrmacht were no supporters of Hitler who had to have his own para military force, the SS, to protected and promote him. One such officer is Sauer. He was a former car salesman and contemptuous of the old ruling class, boasting that it was Hitler who resuscitated Germany. He rather reminded me of the same motivation of the Brexiteers with that mix of nationalism and conviction that a tougher immigration policy would make the country better place. The passive quiescent attitude toward dictatorship and brutality has not gone away as the trial of Gneral Radzic attests.
He combines assiduous research with a capacity to tell a story, ingredients which make him the popular author he is.