William Osborne has written an exciting adventure novel with an unlikely but unique premise, two teenage operatives sent into Germany during the height of World War II to retrieve a girl of importance to both the Nazis and the British.Osborne weaves his adventure in the alternate voices of the two spies plus that of Reinhart Heydrich.
In June of 1940, a young German boy escapes from Europe during the Allied evacuation at Dunkirk. Meanwhile in London, a young girl, a refugee from Austria, helps deliver blood to local hospitals. Both are recruited by Admiral MacPherson for a very special mission. Rudolf Hess, Deputy Fuhrer of the Third Reich is imprisoned in London Tower. He flew across the English Channel from Germany and parachuted into Scotland and is now a prisoner of the British. Hess claims that he has organized a plot to overthrow Hitler. In order to accomplish his plan, a girl from southern Germany must be retrieved and brought to England. MacPherson believes this girl will help the British win the war and he needs two German speaking operatives who are not known to Hitler's security services. MacPherson decides to send in two teens because he believes this will lead to a great chance of success. He reasons that the Germans will be expecting a man and a woman with a child, not three children.
The boy and girl, whose real names we are not given until the end of the novel, are provided with new identities; Otto and Leni Fischer. Their mission is to parachute into southern Bavaria to rescue a nine year old girl named Angelique from a convent. From there Otto and Leni are to take the child to a rendezvous point at Lake Constance on the Swiss border where the admiral will be waiting with a plane to fly them back to England.
Otto and Leni undergo two weeks of intensive training before they are flown in a Mosquito, a small fast plane, and dropped into Bavaria. As expected things do not go as planned, although Leni has no trouble getting Angelique to leave the convent. She is more than willing to escape her lonely prison. But from then on it does not take long before the Germans realize that Angelique has been taken by two teenagers.
When Hitler learns of Hess' defection to Britain he orders Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Reich Main Security and the General of the SS to go to Berghoff where Angelique is being kept, to retrieve her and move her to a more secure location. However, when Heydrich arrives he discovers that Angelique is gone. So begins a cat and mouse game between the three young people and the brutal Heydrich, determined to hunt them down at all cost.
Although the premise behind the story might be unlikely (Hitler was never believed to have had any children and it's likely that in Germany three children travelling alone WOULD invoke suspicion), Osborne has created an exciting adventure story with heroic, quick-witted teens and cruel arch-enemy who stops at nothing to try to apprehend them. Osborne doesn't spare his readers anything when it comes to portraying Heydrich as the cruel man he was known to be. He has no problem murdering people who fail him. He's portrayed as cold and calculating and completely obsessed with his quarry.
For the most part, Otto and Leni are realistic characters, at times courageous, at other times fearful, sometimes making bad choices and other times demonstrating cunning and intelligence. However, they do seem too well trained for the two week period they worked with British agents. Although they have not been told the true identity of Angelique, Otto and Leni eventually figure out who she is and decide that she will likely not be safe with either the British or the Nazis. But Angelique takes matters into her own hands, providing a twist to the end of the novel.
Osborne includes a map outlining Otto and Leni's journey which is helpful to understanding the journey the two are undertaking. There is a short section at the back of the novel which provides brief information on various historical figures. For those interested in learning more about Reinhard Heydrich, the Jewish Virtual Library has a good entry as it also does for Rudolf Hess.
Hitler's Secret by William Osborne
New York: Chicken House 2013