Edgar Award-winning author Aaron Elkins flaunts his talent as a historical mystery novelist in Turncoat. Peter Simon is a simple man, a European history professor in New York. He's been married for seventeen years to Lily, whom he met in Europe. Though their relationship seems strong, it survives on mundane and flat conversations. This suits Simon fine. It makes life and everything else smoother, more predictable.
On the morning JFK is assassinated, Simon wakes to find his wife arguing with an old man at the front door who is trying to give Lily a reel of film in a canister. It turns out the man at the door is Marcel Vercier, Lily's father. But that cannot be right -- Lily told Simon nearly two decades ago that her father was dead. Upset, Lily insists they will discuss everything later. Simon, who prefers to avoid confrontation at all costs, agrees. But when news of the president's death is announced, later is put off until… later.
Then Vercier is murdered. His attackers did the job by delivering a brutal beating. Was this done as a form of torture in order to get answers from Vercier? At this point, Simon plans to step outside his comfort zone and demand answers from his wife. But when he arrives home, she is gone, leaving only a letter to him behind. In it she begs him not to try to find her. The way the letter is written implies that she won't be returning home, ever.
Unable to do nothing, Simon is compelled to track down his wife and figure out what is going on. He begins his search for answers in Barcelona. What he learns right away is that he did not know anything about his wife's past as he quickly begins to uncover things about Lily's childhood and her father's traitorous ways.
During World War II, Vercier was a French Nazi collaborator. Vercier was renowned for his ability to restore and deal in ancient coins and jewelry. He seemingly worked with the Nazi Germans to secure various objects of value formerly posessed by Jews. After the war, trials, headed by the French Resistance, found Vercier's actions despicable and punishable by death.
Simon's quest takes him to many places, and his own life comes under danger. His questions spark reactions to those still looking for the second film that Vercier had in his possession, even though no one knows for sure what is contained on the film. Perhaps there is incriminating evidence that points a finger at someone else for crimes committed during the war?
Simon encounters a host of intriguing, dangerous, and untrustworthy characters. Inspector Jeneaux does his best to assist Simon while he is in France, especially after an attempt is made on his life. Charles Lebrun, Vercier's business partner for the last twenty years, knew Lily when she was young. Claude Goujon was a big man in the Resistance and hated both Vercier and Lily for many different reasons. The many truths Simon uncovers could forever change the relationship he once had with his wife. How the answers he finds affects that relationship is up to Simon. The trouble is, none of it matters if he can't find Lily.
Elkin's Turncoat is fast, witty, and full of tension and suspense. It is properly flavored with pinches and dashes of European history, along with glimpses into a World War II that I never knew existed. The characters are finely developed. The dialogue is tight and authentic. Turncoat twists and surprises to keep readers entertained, intrigued and turning pages.