It’s summer 1951 and London is feeling the downbeat mood of austerity. Jack McGovern is a detective with Special Branch. High level British diplomats have defected to the Russians and he’s told to investigate Colin Harris, a British communist who has recently returned from East Germany, leaving behind his fiancée, Frieda Schroder. In London, Harris contacts old friend Alan Wentworth who’s making a BBC programme about Konrad Eberhardt, an exiled German scientist. The paths of all the characters cross when Eberhardt is found dead after the funeral of a famous left-wing writer. Harris returns to Berlin, trailed by McGovern, and here the detective meets Frieda. She fascinates him, but layer after layer of her story must be peeled back before the truth is revealed. Back in London, there have been further Cold War defections, but the death of Eberhardt remains unsolved. MI5 suspects he was writing damaging memoirs.
The plot is complex, working on many levels and the outcome is disturbing thanks to all the smokescreens conjured by the author. The real triumph is how the lives of the disparate characters so convincingly mesh together.