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book review


By Robert Harris

Random House Canada, 342 pages, $24.95

Last year, Robert Harris focused on the papal conclave to select a new Pope; this year, it's the Munich Conference that Harris takes from a tired paragraph in a dusty history book to a nail-biting suspense novel that shines a whole new light on grey old Neville Chamberlain. In Harris's clever plot, appeasement seems not only sensible but noble, albeit 80 years after the fact. Our man with the British is Hugh Legat, the epitome of the junior civil servant. His German counterpart is Paul Hartmann, rising star of Third Reich foreign policy. While Europe sits on the brink of war over Czechoslovakia, everyone is trying to interpret Hitler's moods and words. One man knows what's happening and he has the papers to prove it. Can he get them to the British in time to make a difference? We all know he doesn't but the thrill here is in the minute details of diplomatic work and in Harris's stunning reconstruction of how it all might have been. I couldn't put it down.

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