First, I must apologize to Ms. Hellmann for the lateness of this review. I can only plead work and conventions. And laundry.
When it comes to the plight of Jewish refugees during the Second World War, the focus tends to be on their escape or attempts to do so. In Ms. Hellmann’s new novella from The Red Herring Press, Lena Bentheim has reached safety in Chicago, but at the cost of the rest of her family and her beloved Josef. Through a combination of luck and determination, she lands a job as a secretary in the U. of Chicago physics department, falls in love and has a son.
The department has taken on a new top-secret project, and Lena’s husband is in the front row of scientists working on it. Then, Karl dies in a traffic accident, and Lena must return to work. The department welcomes her back. Life is a struggle, but she’ll do what she must for her son, Max.
Until the night Max goes missing. Suddenly, Lena is forced to spy on her coworkers, supplying the Nazi regime with information on the experiments in atomic fission that will become known as the Manhattan Project.
It’s impossible not to want to jump in and help Lena. A stranger in a country where her religion and her country of origin are suspect, where she has no one she can trust or turn to, and where the life of her child hangs on choices she must make against her will and her conscience, she is a character one can embrace without a qualm. Ms. Hellmann places her in a seemingly impossible situation where she must either find the courage to battle her blackmailers or accept the treason they demand she perform for them. The suspense in this superb novella is more truly in that internal struggle than in the outer one of spies and traitors.
The Incidental Spy is available in print and, shortly, in ebook on Amazon. I received an advance review copy from Ms. Hellmann for review purposes. I’m delighted I did.