In Follett’s hands, the answer is, surprisingly well. Lloyd Williams, an idealistic young Brit visiting Germany with his MP mother, becomes an assistant to a Social Democrat. During his brief stay, Lloyd witnesses Brownshirts killing a man because he’s gay and gets an up-close glimpse of Hitler.
The German leader’s voice, he thinks, is “harsh and grating, but powerful, reminding Lloyd of both a machine gun and a barking dog.”
At times, Follett falls into the trap of relying too much on dialogue to convey historical context. During a country club dance in pre-World War II Buffalo, some teenaged boys vie for a young beauty’s attention by debating FDR’s refusal to sign anti-lynching legislation.
“I know why he made that decision: he was afraid that angry Southern congressmen would retaliate by sabotaging the New Deal,” says Woody Dewar, the son of a US Senator. “All the same, I would have liked him to tell them to go to hell.”
It’s jarring to see unrequited teen love morph into Meet the Press. Still, these are minor faults in a book stuffed with pleasure for any lover of popular fiction.
Elsewhere, Follett’s passing observations lend authority while he gives readers the frisson of knowing what the characters can’t. Referring to a new, five-sided headquarters just opening as the new hub of the American military, the author mentions the contemporary penchant to start referring to the massive complex as, simply, the Pentagon.