The Company of Strangers
Robert Wilson
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The Company of Strangers
Robert Wilson
Harvest Books
496 pages
November 2002
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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From bombed-out London to doomed Hitler's doomed Stalingrad headquarters to the icy landscape of the Soviet war machine, there is a constant shifting of allegiances and agendas, and World War II is a breeding ground for spies and double-agents leveraged to play both sides for profit.

There is a certain pragmatism involved in the business of war, profit to be made as both enemies and allies juggle for position, proffering deals in an effort to position themselves for surrender. The Germans fear the rise of the Russians under Stalin and his intentions for the rest of Europe; Seville is the only city with easy access to the Allies without government scrutiny, and Seville is where British agent Andrea Aspinall meets German agent Karl Voss.

The couple embarks on a brief, torrid affair, but spying does not make for long associations and they are suddenly parted, Karl ominously returned to Germany. Andrea attempts a normal life after her short but intense work for the Company, but she is unable to extricate herself from the emotional rush of the trade, induced to accept more assignments over the years.

The story revolves around the lovers and their convoluted careers in a volatile, distrustful trade. The pivotal characters are by no means one-dimensional: Karl is inherently noble, from a family of soldiers who love their country, betrayed by Hitler's actions; Andrea is a young woman whose very foundation is built on lies, always redefining herself in relation to those around her, wary of personal attachments. Youthful vulnerability is a critical element of Andrea's evolving personality. In fact, she meets Voss when still a neophyte thrust into a nest of sophisticated operatives, essentially over her head. For all the noble intentions of the lovers, they are deeply involved in secret plots driven by vested interests.

Robert Wilson assembles an impressive number of villains in the various agencies spread across the globe, hard men who often pursue private agendas and personal fortunes at the cost of national integrity. The protagonists plunge through a clandestine post-war world that is impossible to navigate, a minefield of plausible intentions corrupted by darker motives. The shining moments of innocence burn, briefly incandescent, before pitching headfirst into the effluvia of war and its aftermath in this morality play of human failings and betrayal.

Click here for Luan Gaines' first interview with Blood is Dirt author Robert Wilson

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© 2004 by Luan Gaines for Curled Up With a Good Book

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