Belgium, 1940: Posing as a friar, a British operative talks his way into the monastery at Villers-devant-Orval just before the Nazis plan to sweep through the area and whisk everything of value back to Berlin. That night, he adds an old leather Bible to the monastery’s library and then escapes. London, 2017: A construction worker makes a grisly discovery—a skeletal arm-bone with a rusty handcuff attached to the wrist. The woman who will put these two disparate events together—and understand the looming tragedy she must hurry to prevent—is Russian historian and former Soviet chess champion Larissa Mendelovg Klimt, “Lara the Bookworm,” to her friends.In the course of this riveting thriller, Lara will learn the significance of six musty Dictaphone cylinders recorded after D-Day by Noel Coward—actor, playwright and, secretly, a British agent reporting directly to Winston Churchill. She will understand precisely why that leather Bible, scooped up by the Nazis and deposited on the desk of Adolf Hitler days before he planned to attack Britain, played such a pivotal role in turning his guns to the East. And she will discover the new secret pact negotiated by the nefarious Russian president and his newly elected American counterpart—maverick and dealmaker—and the evil it portends.
Silver follows his well-received debut, 2007's In Secret Service, with a disappointing conspiracy thriller. In Moscow, Russian scholar Larissa Klimt (the bookworm of the title) is researching documents seized by the Soviets from Hitler's bunker which makes her the perfect person to analyze six Dictaphone recordings "of testimony by one of the men who started the Great Patriotic War": playwright and composer Noel Coward. Coward did spy for the British in real life, but in Silver's telling he was also part of a disinformation campaign designed to persuade Hitler to focus on Russia and leave the Allies alone. Meanwhile, in London, an odd discovery on the site of a 1944 V-2 rocket strike presents another part of the puzzle for Larissa: the wrist bone of a person who was likely a spy courier, based on the rusty handcuff attached. Anthony Blunt, Ian Fleming, and John F. Kennedy also make cameo appearances, but the use of actual people doesn't make this misguided rewrite of the history of WWII any more convincing, and it takes a snarky, light tone that doesn't serve the material well.