Playing the Players
British-born John Russell has an American mother, a German son, and a German girlfriend. So he stays in Berlin after Hitler comes to power, working first as a freelance journalist and later as a freelance spy, playing the government powers (German, English, Russian and American) off each other to keep himself and his family safe and to help others get out of Germany.
Intense suspense builds as we wait for the Gestapo to knock on the door and deliver our hero to a world of violence, pain and brutality.
Russell is a writer, not a fighter and he tries to beat the bad guys with his wits not his fists, which puts him in some hair-raising situations. Over the course of the series his conscience becomes more sensitive as the tightrope he walks between human decency and personal safety gets thinner and thinner.
These books are set in dangerous places in dangerous times. The suspense is in whether or not Russell and his loved ones can survive: first the reign of terror of the Nazis and then the privations and perils of World War II. In each book, Russell takes on lots of tasks--finding missing people, keeping his friends and family out of jail, getting intelligence to the good guys and keeping it away from the bad guys, smuggling people out of Germany. These subplots don't necessarily connect to create one climax.
Below, the books in chronological order. The author doesn't plan to write more in this series.
I always like to read series in order, but each of these books stands pretty well on its own. Below, a list of the John Russell Spy Novels in chronological order.
1939. In search of useful intelligence, Russell investigates when an American journalist dies in Berlin in suspicious circumstances. 1939. Russell plays three intelligence agencies off each other to keep his girlfriend out of the Gestapo's hands. 1941. Anti-Nazi interests in Germany hope that the war with Russia will turn against the Germans. Russell and his girlfriend try to leave Germany. 1945. Berlin is in ruins. John's son is fighting on the Eastern Front. His girlfriend is living underground in Berlin. He has heard nothing from either for four years so he concocts a plot with the Russians that may get him to Berlin...with the Russian Army. 1945. The war has been over for six months. Russell is blackmailed into carrying out one last job for his friend in Russian intelligence...A job that might end up with Russell in an American jail. 1948. In the first years after the war, Berlin is spy heaven as the battle lines of the Cold War are drawn. Russell is working for the American CIA and the Russian NKVD, hoping neither will figure out his duplicity.