The Nazi atrocities of World War II are, of course, so well documented today that only the deliberately obtuse among us can claim ignorance of them. What so many still fail to understand, however, is how easily it all might have been avoided if only the rest of the world had not been content simply to look the other way when Adolph Hitler first began the military posturing that led to the war. In Midnight in Berlin, James MacManus explores what might have happened if only two people (British Prime Minister Sir Neville Chamberlain and the British ambassador to Berlin, Sir Nevile Henderson) had had the courage and boldness later exhibited by Chamberlain’s successor Winston Churchill.
MacManus based the novel’s main character, Colonel Noel Macrae, on real life Colonel Mason-Macfarlane who was the British military attaché in Berlin during the critical years 1938 and 1939. As the novel opens, Macrae and his wife arrive at a Berlin train station early on a cold Sunday morning so that Macrae can immediately begin his duties there as British military attaché. Unfortunately for Macrae, a man who understands the importance of stopping Hitler before he can begin to march his armies across Europe, Sir Nevile Henderson, his boss, does not share his opinion. Macrae soon learns that the only war Henderson and Prime Minister Chamberlain are willing wage is one of appeasement. They are willing to pay almost any price if it means peace with Germany – and other countries do the bulk of the paying.
The Gestapo takes Macrae more seriously than Henderson takes him, and hopes to neutralize Macrae by secretly filming him inside a Gestapo-run brothel known as the Salon. Fortunately, as it turns out, Macrae falls in love with Sara (a young Jewish woman forced to work at the Salon in order to keep her brother alive) who warns him of the trap before it can be sprung.
And the game is on. Now it is more than just a question of whether Macrae will be able to convince the British government to change its policy in time to keep Hitler from throwing the world into another catastrophic war. He also has to find a way to get Sara away from the Gestapo and out of Germany before Hitler closes the border to Jews trying to escape what they see coming. Noel Macrae, though, has an ace up his sleeve - the same sniper rifle that he used so effectively during World War I - and he is prepared to use it against Hitler if the opportunity presents itself, no matter what Chamberlain and the rest of the British government might think about his decision.
Midnight in Berlin is part thriller and part love story, but above everything else, it is an excellent piece of historical fiction that reminds the reader of how easily the course of history can be changed – for the better or for the worse.
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)