on July 6, 2011
Rebecca Cantrell has outdone herself (no small accomplishment) in this, her third, Hannah Vogel mystery. I love the setting of historical Berlin so strongly brought to life, and the breathless suspense of the story.
Hannah has re-entered Hitler's Germany to engage in a hazardous game: carrying Nazi secrets to the British. Bearing an assumed name, she attends the Berlin 1936 Olympic Games as a reporter. There in the stands, her long-time writing mentor dies in her arms; the first in a chain of deaths and dangers. As if being in Berlin, where she is wanted by the Nazis, is not peril enough, she can't know if her partner in espionage is her best friend or worst enemy. Regardless of the risk, she is determined to learn what her anti-Nazi mentor died for, and all she has to go on is cryptic writing in his notebook, and her tough, independent nature. Lethal developments come in small packages, and everyone holds a secret. A Game of Lies is a MUST READ!
When I started the first Hannah Vogel book I was at first impressed by the description of place. I had never thought of Berlin in the 30s as a place I'd like to visit for the length of a mystery novel, let alone three, but Hannah's Berlin is almost cozy. She's poor and has been poorer, but she has a sort of ironic optimism, even when awful things keep happening to her.
I must admit, I was not happy when the classic right guy who may be wrong shows up, but even with those zinging fingertips so carefully described, she still has most of her attention focused on the 5-year old who materialized on her doorstep quoting an American western narrative. Anton saves Hannah from inhabiting a romance novel, and I was greatly relieved.
And then it hit me -- this was Mary Stewart. Mary Stewart in the south of France, where the protagonist befriends a small boy. The hero of a Mary Stewart novel was a young woman who had survived some loss -- death, usually, of a spouse -- and who was venturing out to see some place she'd always wanted to go -- Avignon, Delphi, the Isle of Skye. And Stewart's readers got to go along for the ride. Yes, there was always a guy for that walk into the sunset, but the hero did some of the saving of the day herself.
Hannah Vogel is smarter than any of the one-off heros from Stewart's books, but the sense of place and the sense of a woman testing the limits of herself in new situations is very close.
I read through the three books in less than a week -- warp speed for me, a slow page-turner.
Like many second books, The Night of the Long Knives falls below the standard of A Trace of Smoke, but A Game of Lies may be better than either. I wish there were some Anton moments -- more than she weaves in with flashbacks -- but Cantrell shows us a painfully close examination of a woman's mind and emotions in times of enormous change and in the face of virtually crippling fear. The backdrop of the Olympics is too lightly sketched, but it does work with the other concerns of the plot. The Lars Lang plot was a shocker for me, but it's not yet resolved when the last page turned. Yes, Hannah is guilty of what Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey declared to be the worst characteristic of a woman in a crime novel -- when someone sends a note saying "meet me at the bridge at midnight; come alone; tell no one," she goes alone and tells no one. But she does learn to back-stop herself a bit more as events (and injuries) go on. Her best line?
She notices that her bloodstained clothing might attract attention and thinks, just quickly in the middle of an action paragraph, "I should have worn a darker dress."
There's nothing cozy about the Berlin of the third book, but how could there be? And still, I can't wait for the next visit.
on July 5, 2011
As always, I have been eagerly anticipating the new Hannah Vogel mystery from Rebecca Cantrell. And I am so happy that my copy is finally in my hands.
Setting the story during the 1936 Olympic Games is pure genius. The spectacle - the haunting spectacle now - of those games is extremely powerful. The games and the setting are visually compelling, and Cantrell's handling of the event is equally so. As one of the most crucial and successful propaganda ploys in history, the story takes on a thematic resonance that is chilling.
Cantrell's prowess as a writer continues to grow, and I find the prose in this book evocative and beautiful. A Game of Lies is so well crafted it engages on very strong, visceral levels, and it is just a pleasure to read.
The book just sings, with a strong play-fair mystery plot, fast pacing, and thematic elements skillfully woven in. (I don't need to spell out the plot; you can find that in the product description and editorial reviews).
I love Hannah. She is one of the best heroines in literature. She's strong, she's tender, she's smart, and she's funny, very, very funny and quick. I want to read everything ever written about Hannah Vogel. Someday I expect to see one of those companion volumes about this series, one that includes her complete biography, maps of where she has lived, and more.
Rebecca Cantrell's new novel, "A Game of Lies", is the third in her Hannah Vogel series. It's better than the second but not as good as her first one. (At least the trend is on the upswing!). Hannah Vogel was a reporter for "Berliner Tageblatt", the liberal German newspaper in the late 1920's - early 1930's, writing the crime column called "Peter Weill", which she had taken over from the previous "Peter Weill" (the "real" "Peter Weill"). After the Nazis came to power in 1933, she left the paper and eventually Germany. The two previous books in the series are about her brother's death, the adoption of a young boy who may - or may not - have been the son of Ernst Rohm, Hitler's chief of the SA who was killed by Hitler in the "Night of the Long Knives". All the background is real, but Hannah Vogel, the first-person narrator of the books is fictional, as is her adopted son.
In the third book, Hannah returns to Germany from her self-imposed exile in Switzerland to cover the Swiss Olympic team in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. She's also back to do a little spying, which she has done several times in the past few years, serving as a courier of information unfavorable to the Nazi government to contacts in England. Her son is back in Switzerland in the care of her former boyfriend and Hannah - who is traveling under an alias - is anxious to finish her reporting/spying and return to her son and the safety of Switzerland. However, is as the case in every mystery, Hannah comes across - literally - several murders and people of murky allegiances and problems and danger are her constant companions. (As there is already a fourth "Hannah Vogel" novel in the works, you can imagine things turn out okay in the end).
As a reader and reviewer, I was left with the thought that perhaps "Hannah Vogel" has run her course. The "perils of Pauline" theme of the book seems to have pretty much been exhausted by book three. And yet the book - and the characters - is interesting. If I were to give unsolicited advise to author Rebecca Cantrell, I'd advise her to write about the same period but concentrate on a different character for plot and back story. There were several minor characters in "Game" I found quite interesting and would like to know more about them. Take the focus off Hannah and put it on someone else. Of course, we all know what "unsolicited advise" is worth...
I can recommend "Game", particularly to those who have read the first two books in the series. I just wish Cantrell would widen her scope a little.
on August 11, 2011
Rebecca Cantrell illustrates 1936 Berlin so adeptly that you can see it, smell it, taste it and fear it. Her talent seems to be that she knows the history so well that she is able to throw in fictional characters amongst the factual setting in such a manor as to make you believe her characters were their. She makes it all tangible. I wonder at her ability to illustrate the minds and hearts of those people that were there! I found it fascinating and difficult to put down.
on April 4, 2012
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.
on January 1, 2012
When first we meet Hannah Vogel (in Rebecca Cantrell's debut novel, A Trace of Smoke) she's a criminal reporter, working in Berlin, during the dark days when the Nazis were coming to power in Germany.
Three years later, in A Night of Long Knives, Hannah returns to witness the humbling of the SA and the murder of their leader, Ernst Röhm.
And now she's back, in the third installment of Ms. Cantrell's outstanding series.
The book: A Game of Lies. The time: 1936. The backdrop: The most famous Olympic Games in modern history, an event in which American black athlete, Jessie Owens, disproved the Nazis absurd racial theories by winning four gold medals.
Hannah, already living for some time in Switzerland, has crept back into Berlin. She's there under an assumed name, and under a false passport, ostensibly to report for the Swiss press, but actually to continue her work as a spy for the British.
Hannah is well-known to her colleagues in the German press, and already wanted by the Nazis for her previous activities, so the danger she's in, this time, is greater than ever before.
And it's exacerbated by insecurity. Lars Lang, her collaborator, is an SS officer who might well be a double agent.
The action begins with a bang, when Peter Weill, Hannah's colleague and mentor, is murdered, at the Olympic Stadium.
And it doesn't let-up until the very last page.
The stadium, by the way, is a place immortalized in the classic documentary Olympiad, directed by Hitler's favorite filmmaker (also dancer and actress) Leni Riefenstahl.
You can see a sample here:
As you watch it, and enter into the spirit of Ms. Cantrell's latest book, note the nations who give the Hitlergruß, the Nazi salute, and those who don't. It might surprise you.
Ms. Riefenstahl's film shows us the Berlin of those days in dim, black and white.
Ms. Cantell's words bring it back in living color - with sounds and smells attached. Her writing is that vivid.
Fans of Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther, or David Downing's John Russell, will love Rebecca Cantrell's Hannah Vogel. She's right up there with the best of them.
on July 26, 2014
I first downloaded a free sample of this book to read and got fully engrossed in the story.The facts of the Berlin Olympics gave color to the background of the story,and contrasting the beauty of the games with the reality of the Jewish areas gave a haunting quality to the story.The horrors of the Nazi regime are showcased well before the start
of the war.If only the powers that be could have stopped Hilter before he did all the horrible things that encompassed the Second World War.The story is gripping and interesting.
on March 17, 2012
"A Game of Lies" is a spy game and murder mystery set during the 1936 Olympics, and a mature look at the price that Hannah has to pay as her chosen path of fighting the Nazis continues to unfold. The uneasy atmosphere of "A Trace of Smoke" and the fear of "A Night of Long Knives" has given way to rigid, cold desperation, as Germans do what they need to do to survive under a Nazi government that is crushing them. Hannah leads a double life, doesn't trust the company that she keeps, is estranged from her lover, Boris, and separated from the son that she dearly loves.
The most satisfying part of the book for me was the complicated, mature handling of the relationship with Lars Lang. I have to admit, I hadn't liked him very much in the previous novels -- SS interrogators have that effect on me :) -- but he wove his way into the story and Hannah's life. Hannah chose her path of fighting the Nazis, and it was inevitable that he would become part of it. It's not clear that it's in either of their best interests, which is what I love about it -- the best writers don't flinch from letting the stories unfold as the should, as Cantrell has clearly done here.
on August 10, 2011
Rebecca Cantrell's latest Hannah Vogel release is every bit as hard-hitting, thrilling and full of surprises as the first two books in the series. The backdrop of the 1936 Berlin Olympics provides an angst-filled tale of intrigue, and at times terror, as Hannah does her best to yet again survive her quest in Berlin.
Exceptional, gripping dialogue between these fascinating characters propel the reader on a fast-paced journey of discovery and clues that seem impossible to be resolved, but this fine writer achieves the task few can pull off with such mastery.
A Game of Lies is a must add for your reading list.