From USA Today bestselling author A.W. Hartoin comes a series perfect for the fans of Kristen Hannah’s The Nightingale, Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls, and Kit Sergeant’s The Spark of Resistance: Women Spies in WWII.
It’s been a year since Stella Bled Lawrence and her husband, Nicky, escaped Italy by the skin of their teeth and a lot has changed. Nicky joined the Royal Air Force and Stella spent the year training as a spy for His Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service. She has the languages and the tradecraft down pat, but she still has a way to go when the Earl of Bickford pulls her from her training early.
The earl uses his influence to make her a courier, a job well below her skills, but it’s not as simple as it seems. The new head of the service isn’t convinced of her worth and Stella has to use the opportunity to show him that she and other women can deliver for Britain or she’s out on her ear.
That would be enough to make any newly-minted spy nervous, but the earl isn’t done. He has a favor to ask and the request sends Stella to a place that will haunt her forever.
Intense, thrilling and fantastic!
Stella’s story just keeps getting better. What a marriage she and husband Nicky have had so far. A honeymoon that turned out to be anything but the long sightseeing and shopping trip for a pampered couple they expected, death and destruction up close and personal, a harrowing journey through Europe. So wouldn’t you think that once they were safely in England they would jump on the first ship they could find and head home to America? Well, no. Wiser, sadder and much more determined than when they set out, they’ve seen evil firsthand and have each vowed to do all they can to combat it in their own way. They made promises and now feel guilty about some of those promises they couldn’t keep. Nicky doesn’t think he was the man his bride needed him to be. So at their one-year anniversary mark Nicky is off with the Royal Air Force and Stella has just about finished British spy school. As she does with everything, Stella excelled in her training, but could any training really prepare her for what’s happening in Germany? And will any rules stop her from doing what she believes is right and necessary? Her assignment is as a courier. Simple, right? Deliver the package, observe her surroundings, come back and report. But in reality not so simple, as the Earl of Bickford has added a small task to her assignment: rescue a child who has gone missing in Berlin. One Child in Berlin is well plotted, well written, well thought out, and all Stella. Even if she is clever and brave and resourceful and determined, she is still all alone. Yes, she’s been trained but she is still a very young woman who was brought up to be an heiress, who married into more money and power and exclusivity and privilege. Who is untested in the field.
As always, author A. W. Hartoin does a masterful job of crafting a story that is complex and rich in detail but easy to follow at the same time, creating characters that seem real and weaving their actions so skillfully into actual world events that reading one of her stories is like reading a really fascinating history book. It is amazing how many clues are dropped throughout the story and how there is always a thread that ties them together in the very satisfying ending.
One Child in Berlin begins on a strong, emotional, intense note that continues on each and every page. Right from the start we are reminded who Abel was and what Stella’s promise to him means to her, and how strongly she mourns seeing him arrested and thrown on a train bound for a concentration camp. Stella’s supposedly simple assignment goes just a little off-kilter as soon as she sets foot in Berlin and she is forced to improvise. She trusted Abel, she trusts Nicky, and she trusts the Earl of Bickford, but none of them is there. She’s completely on her own, playing a role that she has to keep adapting to her circumstances. Her work at a nightclub for the rich and powerful of Berlin is fraught with danger, and she puts herself and her mission at risk with each step she takes to try and find the lost child. The story moves along at a rapid pace and I was in constant fear for Stella and those around her. Who can she trust? She feels close to the girls she works and lives with, but they are still the enemy. Author Hartoin once again perfectly captures the feel of Germany just before the war, the rapid, inexorable roller coast slide of the German people into nationalism, fear, adoration of their Fuhrer, suspicion of their once friends and neighbors and hatred of the Jews. In hindsight we can ask how this could happen to educated, hard-working, noble people, how they could believe what was happening was right, but when portrayed as A. W. Hartoin so elegantly portrays it you can see how one event after another after another so skillfully orchestrated by Hitler and those around him could sweep up the average German into believing that even if an individual action is wrong the goal is just.
This is the third book in the Stella series but there has been mention of Bleds since the first Mercy Watt mystery from this author. I am torn between wanting both of these series to go on forever and wanting to have a mile-high view to see the final weaving of all these people, places and (valuable) things. These books truly are gems and provide so many hours of reading, and re-reading, pleasure. I recommend One Child in Berlin and all of A. W. Hartoin’s books without hesitation. I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review, and all opinions are my own. Buy it, read it; it’s fantastic.