A Book Spy Review: ‘Munich’ by Robert Harris

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MunichRobert Harris follows up his 2017 bestseller, Conclave, with another breathtaking historical fiction thriller set in 1938 on the streets of Germany.

Though the focal point of his novel — a meeting between British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler — really did take place in Munich during the fall of 1938, Harris uses fictional characters (one British, the other German) to tell his story. 

Hugh Legat and Paul Hartmann met and became friends prior to World War II during their time as students at Oxford together, but haven’t seen each other in more than half a decade. Now, each of them serves opposing sides of a budding conflict, and there’s a whole lot more than just their friendship on the line. 

Legat is one of Chamberlain’s private secretaries and valuable to the British delegation because he’s fluent in German. Hartmann, meanwhile, appears to be one of Hitler’s followers, though he’s actually part of a military group planning to overthrow the evil dictator should the opportunity present itself. Their paths cross again when both are part the conference in Munich, set up to hopefully reach an agreement that would bring peace, and not war, after Hitler demands that the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia be given to Germany. 

Chamberlain, according to Harris, is willing to meet the demand in an effort to stop the killing of his people, but wants assurances from Hitler that true peace will follow. The reality is that England’s military was not in any shape to stand up to Hitler and his army, which meant Chamberlain had very few options and thus concentrated on getting the best deal that he could. Throughout the process, Legat and Hartmann end up working together to secure a diplomatic solution. . . 

Though their motivations are revealed to be different, each man takes considerable risks as Harris weaves his fictional story through accurate historical record, creating a complex, high-stakes plot that just might be his finest work yet. 

Creating a fictional thriller set around a real-world event, especially something as famous as the Munich Conference, is a daring attempt that isn’t easy to pull off. Harris, however, has always shown a willingness to be bold, though it doesn’t always work out or pay off in a positive way. Last year’s Conclave had a very daring twist, but it wasn’t necessarily a good one. That book, as a whole, was a train wreck and left questions about Harris’ ability to deliver another hit entering 2018. Now, with the release of Munich, Harris has silenced his doubters by publishing his best novel to date, while restoring his reputation as one of the best historical fiction novelists currently working. 

Students of history should appreciate Harris’ honest take on the events that played out all those years ago. His view on Chamberlain may be debatable — after all, the man did end up resigning a couple of years later, paving the way for Winston Churchill. Still, Harris offers plenty of quotes from Hitler and others to back up his views on the situation, all the while mixing fiction into the fold. 

Book Details

Author: Robert Harris
Pages: 320 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 0525520260
Publisher: Knopf
Release Date: January 16, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 7.0/10

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Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.

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