Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
The productive Thomas H Cook has discovered the past, its interest and the mysteries locked within it. Most importantly he has discovered that people are lost there, that others are not prepared to investigate the past, but that those who will investigate find that the past was a lot more complicated, horrific even, than it might have seemed. The Fate of Katherine Carr (2009) was the first example of this, and 2010 brought The Last Talk with Lola Faye. Now Anna Klein continues the idea. There is a past, there is death, betrayal, love and – because of love – more betrayal.
Anna Klein swaps between chapters of an interview in the present day with Thomas Jefferson Danforth, scion of a well-established family and part of the establishment, and accounts of Danforth’s life in the years before World War Two and then the events which followed. Danforth finds himself, at first unwillingly, recruited into the nascent American intelligence service, useful mainly because his banking connections mean he has a foreign understanding when the spirit of the times was strongly isolationist, unwilling to know what was going on abroad. Danforth, in turn, has to be made to realise what the implications of this secret war might be: hidden violence and the threat of injury or even death. He is introduced to the other people who are prepared to help, people like the mesmerising Anna Klein, a refugee from Eastern Europe or regions even less well known, whose experiences have made her both a potential lover and a probable angel of death to those who oppose her. Danforth is entranced. Unfortunately, she might also be a double-agent. Would he turn her in?
While John Le Carré is known for his portrayals of this uncertainty I was reminded of Charles McCarry’s “Paul Christopher” series of novels, which include The Tears of Autumn (1974) currently being reprinted Overlook Press, as they are explicitly American. Le Carré, McCarry, John Lawton in his “Inspector Troy” series, and now Thomas H Cook are offering “a secret or alternate history of the 20th century”, in Charles N Brown’s phrase, examples of how individuals prepared long before governments were aware that they needed to be.
For a work so strongly American the distant inspiration of Anna Klein must have been another Anna – Anna Wolkoff, a White Russian émigré who was involved in the Tyler Kent affair in London in 1940. This was a case of documents stolen from the American embassy involving characters whose interests can only be permutated from Nazi, Soviet, anti-Soviet, and anti-Roosevelt isolationism, though always with the taint of treason, and still cannot be fully explained. The case was made more complex when the spy ring was compromised by MI5. Double and double-double cross.
Bizarre as was Anna Wolkoff, Anna Klein is more complex still. If this is not obvious as you read, bear with the story as I did, and you will find (and readers have said that of Cook’s previous books) that your effort is rewarded.