Hannah Vogel is back in Berlin, this time to report on the 1936 Olympic Games and do some spying for the British under cover as neutral Swiss reporter Adelheid Zinsli. She’s been working for the British for a few years, sneaking documents out from her contact and supposed lover, SS Hauptsturmführer Lars Lang. But those trips only brought her to Germany for brief weekends and kept her far from her journalist colleagues. Now she has to cover the hottest news item of the day for two weeks and somehow avoid being seen by her old “friends,” many of whom will turn her in to the Gestapo, who know her as the kidnapper of Nazi leader Röhm’s young son and a murderer. And that’s only the beginning of her troubles. Old friends die, others betray her—or do they? She’s given up love and safety for this work. Is it worth it? She hopes to undermine the Nazis and awaken the British before it’s too late, but is she actually accomplishing anything? Quite the existential crisis in the midst of terrifying action.
Part of what makes Cantrell’s books work so well is that we know how this story comes out in the big picture. We want to tell Hannah to run like hell. You can’t make this a happy story, Hannah. But she can make this a totally absorbing, inspiring story. We step into a specific moment with a heroine we admire, who chooses the right thing—well, most of the time—and history comes alive without overwhelming us. And nothing goes as we would predict no matter how well you know the years leading up to WWII. Except, of course, that the bad guys are really bad and being good takes ungodly amounts of courage. But the bad and the good pop up in such unexpected places.
Her first book, A Trace of Smoke, focused frequently on the theme of parenting, both the good and the ugly. In A Game of Lies, in the midst of the Nazis’ giant propaganda machine that was the 1936 Olympic Games, Cantrell raises two thematic questions. Can a person make a worthwhile difference in the midst of gathering evil? What’s worth giving up love and human bonds for? I found the complexity and subtlety of Hannah’s struggles with these questions engaging, thought-provoking and heart-wrenching. The fast-paced action, the beautifully developed characters, and the sharply drawn setting keep you glued to every page, holding your breath, and sending out a little prayer that the people you’ve grown to love make it through.