Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Second Midnight by Andrew Taylor

Protagonists: Hugh Kendall and Michael Stanhope-Smith
Setting: London and Prague, WW II
Rating: 5.0

This is a spy, yet not a spy, story. In 1939, before the war, a minor spy is killed in Prague. Agent Michael Stanhope-Smith sends businessman Alfred Kendall as a courier, but the situation becomes more complicated, and Kendall ends up leaving his young son, Hugh, in Prague, as a promise that he'll return. But he never does, as Prague is taken over by the Nazis. Hugh does what he needs to survive, ending up, finally, as a gardener for a good-hearted German officer and his family. He lives above the stables where, every night, he experiences two midnights -- there are two clocks that chime the midnight hour, but one is slower than the other. Hugh falls in love with the German's daughter, Magda, but is hated by the son, Heinz. As the war ends, he must try to make his way back to England as the family flees. The books spans from 1939 to 1963, and in a way is an epic, the story of the Kendalls, as well as Stanhope-Smith, whose life becomes intertwined with the family.

This is very loosely part of the Blaines trilogy, but Blaines himself only has a very small part (a few pages) in this book. As Andrew Taylor says on his website: "This is a trilogy only in an informal and retrospective sense. The links between the books are unobtrusive and developed almost without my noticing. These are espionage novels, but with a difference - the private lives of the spies and their families are more important than their public actions. Indeed, the former tend to influence the latter, often in unexpected ways."

As always in Taylor's books, the characterization is excellent and the book is well worth reading.

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