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The Quest for Anna Klein: An Otto Penzler Book Hardcover – June 21, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

At the start of Edgar-winner Cook's thoughtful if less than inspired thriller, Paul Crane, a young American intelligence operative, interviews 91-year-old Thomas Jefferson Danforth at Manhattan's Century Club. Danforth, who believes he has something to offer the government following the recent 9/11 terrorist attacks, tells Crane about a long-ago threat related to Nazi Germany. Flashback to 1939 when Danforth, then a wealthy New Yorker running an importing business with connections throughout Europe, is recruited by his socialite friend and State Department spy, Robert Clayton, for "the Project." This espionage operation involves Anna Klein, a beautiful, accomplished, and mysterious woman, whom Clayton arranges for Danforth to meet in a bar. It's a terrific premise, as if Alan Furst were writing about Mata Hari, but Cook (The Last Talk with Lola Faye) focuses more on finding meaning in the story than on the story itself. Too much cross-cutting between the mostly irrelevant framing narrative and the more compelling core of the novel doesn't help. (June)


"Edgar-nominee Cook (The Last Talk with Lola Faye, 2010, etc.) plays the spy game in this mystery adventure.

Soon after 9/11, Paul Crane, a young think-tank researcher, interviews Thomas Danforth, an elderly New York City resident who believes he has information relevant to defending America against fanatics. Danforth wants the meeting because Crane wrote an article demanding a revenge-filled response to 9/11. Crane is skeptical, but Danforth unfolds a tale that begins in 1939, when he ran his father's import business. With the war imminent, Danforth was lured into an anti-Nazi conspiracy by his college friend, Robert Clayton. Other characters enter, including Ted Bannion, a disillusioned Spanish Civil War loyalist, and Anna Klein, a mysterious and beautiful young linguist. Captivated by Anna, Danforth accompanies her to Europe, where, with Bannion's help, she intends to organize Spanish Loyalists interned in France into an anti-Nazi force. That scheme fails. The three then decide Danforth will pose as an art dealer seeking Hitler's paintings. The plan is assassination, but the Gestapo intervenes. Bannion takes cyanide. Klein, by now the object of Danforth's passion, is captured. But because of his father's connections, Danforth is simply deported from Nazi Germany. The narrative regularly shifts from the interview to Danforth's adventures in the abattoir that was Europe in the 1940s, where he sought to learn Anna's fate. Clues hint Anna was a double or triple agent, and Danforth is eventually sent to the Soviet Union to determine her identity. There he's taken for a spy and sent to the gulag for 12 years. As the story unfolds, Danforth pushes and prods the callow Crane toward understanding the complexity of moral choices, the shadows that obscure love and loyalty and the perils of cause becoming obsession. Absent one minor point, Cook's plot is as captivating as his characters. It's rendered in an often ear-pleasing literary style— "the sewer's most pernicious flotsam"— and laced with dozens of intriguing historical anecdotes.

A knight errant, a labyrinth of deceit, a sure bestseller." --Kirkus Reviews

"Thomas Cook's work is elegant, philosophical, and literary. This book is to be treasured, and is bound to earn him new readers. Grade A" --Cleveland Plain Dealer


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (June 21, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547364644
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547364643
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,932,857 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By TChris TOP 500 REVIEWER on June 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
On behalf of a foreign affairs think tank, in the aftermath of 9/11, twenty-four-year-old Paul Crane agrees to interview ninety-one-year-old Thomas Jefferson Danforth in the belief that Danforth can provide insight into the terrorist attack. Crane is vexed by Danforth's failure to come quickly to the point of the meeting he requested. Instead, Danforth has a story to tell -- a story that begins in 1939 with Danforth's recruitment to "the Project." Point of view shifts frequently between Crane's first person account of the 2001 interview and the third person narration of Danforth's story (a story Danforth repeatedly describes as "a little parable").

Danforth's friend Clayton initially asks Danforth to volunteer his country home in Connecticut as a training ground for Anna Klein, a spy-to-be who speaks nine languages. In Connecticut, "a little steel ball of a fellow" named LaRoche teaches Anna to shoot a pistol and to use the destructive tools of sabotage. Clayton asks Danforth to learn more about Anna, to be sure of her loyalty. As Danforth spends more time with Anna, he comes to understand that he is terrified by the prospect of living an ordinary life. Despite Clayton's warning of the perils he might face, Danforth volunteers to accompany Anna to Europe and to assist her role in the Project, without yet knowing what the Project might be. Encouraged by Anna and caught up in his "lust to matter," Danforth realizes he wants to be more than "a little spy"; he wants to do something important. He also wants to be near Anna. As they travel together to France and then to Berlin, Danforth gradually learns of the Project's dangerous goal. But he also learns more about Anna ... and what he learns he will later unlearn, and relearn, and repeatedly question.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The "Quest for Anna Klein" was written by Thomas H. Cook. The book is an espionage mystery novel with a historical setting. This is one of several books written by Cook. He received the best novel Edgar for The Chatham School Affair as well as the Martin Beck Award, the Herodotus Prize for best historical short story, and the Barry for best novel for Red Leaves.

The writing style is conversational; questions, answers and a tale are woven into alternating time periods - present and past. The prose is rich in structure and salted with moral and philosophical ideology. The setting begins in America and Europe circa 1939 when Germany and Hitler was rising to power.

The tale is about one Thomas Jefferson Danforth, son of a well to do importer, living in New York city. Primed by his best friend, Robert Clayton, the unfulfilled and callow young Danforth, gets caught up in a plot of espionage that the conspirators name "the project". As Danforth is progressively drawn in by Clayton, Clayton introduces him to Anna Klein, a spy in training. Needing a location for training Anna Klein, Clayton convinces Danforth to provide his summer house in Connecticut (Winterset) for that purpose.

As Danforth observes Anna's training he is slowly and inevitably attracted to her; finally abandoning his current life to follow her to Europe as a co-conspirator in "the project". After arriving in Europe and initially completing some surveilance 'the project' is abandoned and a different more ambitious conspiracy is hatched. Before this new plan can be implemented, a traitor exposes the conspirators. Anna Klein is captured and taken away, Danforth is released. This begins Danforth's life long quest to find Anna Klein and to reveal and kill the traitor.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a story told by a man in his nineties, pondering the days when he was in his twenties. At that time he was recruited to help in what was becoming the struggle against Germany in the days leading up to WWII.

Thomas Danforth lived a pampered life. On a wintery night in New York, his friend persuades him to provide a place and cover for a young woman, Anna Klein. She was to be trained for a secret operation inside Germany. Her training involved firearms and explosives.

The action is presented in alternating chapters of Danforth's life today and his narration of the events in the pre-war days.

Written with intelligence and literary excellence, we witness Anna facing her assignment with fatalism "...like a woman walking toward her future just as religious martyrs walked toward their execution sites..."

We know what was going on in Hitler's Germany with his actions against Jews but it appears that Anna doesn't. Thus we witness her bravery and stoicism while appreciating her as a character.

The reader also glimpses some of the action inside Germany and the brave few who are attempting to do something about it. It is a world of deception and treachery as we follow Anna and Thomas in anticipation of what might be in store for them.

Something goes wrong and Anna disappears. Then it is up to Thomas to find her, this task lasts much longer than Thomas could have forseen and leads to some surprises.

The message seems to be to believe in oneself and to have the courage to take action against an evil situation.

Thomas H. Cook's work is always entertaining and with the courageous characters who come to life in these pages, the author demonstrates intelligent story telling.
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