I do not know how this espionage novel came to be on my Kindle. I can only assume it was a recommendation by Amazon based on previous books I have read set in Vienna.
The more obscure theatres of conflict and cities in World War Two have always interested me: Italy after Mussolini surrendered in September 1943: Denmark – a Nazi protectorate: and Vienna.
Vienna at the turn of the twentieth century produced one of those flowerings of artistic and intellectual talent that come along for no specific reason. Look at the artists and romantic poets of Regency England: Paris in the 1920s; and England in the 1960s.
Vienna from the beginning of the 20th century produced Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, Stefan Zweig – all Jewish – Gustav Klimt, Carl Schnitzler. Austria’s independence was short-lived as the Anschluss happened in 1938 and a referendum thereafter generated 97% approval.
However, the country where Adolf Hitler was born in Linz never paid a penny in reparations as their authorities said it was occupied.
This novel – the first by Alex Gerlis – is set in Vienna during the occupation of the Nazis. The British want to get hold of Hubert Leissner, an independent leader – a sort of Mandela figure – to lead the country post war.
The Russians drop in their best spy in advance of the Red Army sweeping through Eastern Europe. The British counter with Rolf and Anna, agents posing as man and wife.
The Gestapo chief, a sadistic monster called Strobl, is charged with the breaking up of communist cells. The novel starts with the brutal interrogation of one such communist who happens to Rolf’s fiancée. It’s a page turner of a thriller thereafter.
However, I found it most interesting on a historical level. It must have been an extraordinary period in time.
The Viennese flew the city after the Russian invasion. The Allies were advancing from the west. Russia was still regarded as an ally but the allies were suspicious of them. Whatever you read of El Alamein it was the thwarting of the Operation Barbarossa – the Nazi invasion of Russia – that turned the war.
Stalin clamoured for a second front. The Allies argued that the mass bombing of German cities tied up the Luftwaffe and the convoys to the Archangel in perilous and freezing conditions kept Russia fed.
Besides what of the Ribbentrop/Molotov pact?
Still, Stalin saw no reason to concede Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria , Romania, Hungary, Latvia and Lithuania – all under Soviet hegemony.
It was therefore interesting that Strobl created an escape route with a car, cash and valuables and the Russian agent left the door open with his British counterpart Edgar about defecting to the West. A strong sense of survival existed in the camps, one in Austria Matthausen features, but also in the murky loyalties of espionage.
This is cracking read in the time slot before The Third Man which I enjoyed hugely.