James MacManus’ MIDNIGHT IN BERLIN Reviewed
MIDNIGHT IN BERLIN
April 19th, 2016
Thomas Dunne Books
MIDNIGHT IN BERLIN by James MacManus is a fictional story that takes readers through the harrowing months that ultimately led up to WWII. It is a historical novel with emphasis on the history. With a degree in American history it is evident that the author used his knowledge and research to make a captivating plot.
MacManus noted, “I did not set out to write a book that would educate or teach moral lessons. Yet, there are lessons to be drawn from what happened in the 1930s, with this period of appeasement fascinating. It is relevant today because it shows how the establishment wanted to remain in power by pushing their misguided agenda while attempting to silence those who disagreed. There was also the West turning a blind eye to the Germans brutalizing the Jews. I hope I got this point across with a quote from the book, ‘For a Jew in Germany there was no future worth waiting for. The future has been cancelled.’ And today in Europe there is renewed Anti-Semitism.”
While the plot does have elements of romance it concentrates on 1939 Berlin and what was going on behind the scenes with regard to diplomacy. This book shows within an intense story how the appeasers caved in to the Nazis. They were weak and naive, choosing to put their blinders on and to get in bed with Hitler and his goons. Real life characters, notably British Prime Minister Sir Neville Chamberlain and the British ambassador to Berlin, Sir Nevile Henderson, never had the courage and boldness later exhibited by Chamberlain’s successor Winston Churchill to stop Hitler’s war machine. The one who recognized the realistic situation was the novel’s main character, Colonel Noel Macrae, based on real life Colonel Mason-Macfarlane who was the British military attaché in Berlin during the critical years 1938 and 1939. Several other historical figures from this period in time are in the novel: Kitty Schmidt owner of the Nazi bordello Kitty, Gestapo Reinhard Heydrich, and journalist William Shirer.
The story appears to be built around the ultimate decision of Macrae, to assassinate Hitler. MacManus commented, “As with the real-life Colonel, Macrae saw what was happening, that appeasement was not working which would make war inevitable. I hope I portrayed him as a tortured man. He tried to convince his own government that Hitler wanted to expand throughout Europe. He chose to stand up and do something to save humanity.”
These figures blend well with the fictional characters. The story showed the sacrifices of those who hoped to stop the war, by sounding the alarm of an approaching conflict. Macrae finds himself trapped between the blind policies of his government and the dark world of betrayal and deception in Berlin both professionally and personally. With his own marriage to Primrose imploding, it becomes apparent their relationship has chilled to the point both look for love elsewhere. The Gestapo, aware of Macrae’s hostility, seeks to compromise him in their infamous brothel. There, Macrae meets and falls in love with Sara, a Jewish woman blackmailed into becoming a Nazi courtesan. She has prostituted herself to keep her jailed twin brother from execution. Through the storyline of Macrae trying to rescue Sara readers will understand the plight of German Jews and the different ways they tried to escape before Hitler closed the border.
Sara was based on a friend of MacManus. “I gave Sara the same last name of my friend. She had told me of her family’s experience in Nazi Germany and how they escaped. The Nazis had the common practice of taking a family member, putting them in a camp, and then using that as blackmail to make the other family members behave. I hope readers realize the moral dilemma: do they save themselves at the expense of their family or sacrifice themselves for their family. Sara was trapped, caged, and desperate.”
MacManus blends politics, murder, corruption, courage, and sacrifice into this storyline. Readers become flies on the wall, spectators to the events leading the world to the brink of war.