Midnight in Berlin by James MacManus..Blog Tour Stop and Author Q&A




Midnight in Berlin, by James MacManus a summary

This is a historical novel which tells a story of love and betrayal in the dark heart of Berlin on the eve of the Second World War. The book is based on the true story of the plan by a British diplomat to assassinate Hitler in March 1939.

Colonel Noel Macrae, a decorated veteran and an excellent shot, arrives in Berlin as military attaché at the British embassy in 1938. He quickly realises what western governments refused to accept; that Hitler is bent on war and that the West’s appeasement policy, always a failure, had now become an actual incentive for conflict.

Macrae argues that only pre-emptive action against the Nazi regime can forestall a new European war. In a breath-taking departure from the moral and diplomatic code of the day, he proposes to assassinate Hitler on his 50th birthday, April 20th 1939. Macrae’s apartment is only 100 metres from the reviewing stand in central Berlin where Hitler takes the salute on his birthday. It would be an easy shot.

The novel recounts the British government’s rejection of the plan because “it would not be sportsmanlike behaviour.” The Gestapo’s aware only of Macrae’s hostility attempts to compromise the military attaché and force his dismissal. The secret police runs a brothel in Berlin disguised as a smart restaurant called the Salon Kitty.

The leading lady is Jewish, Sara Sternschein, personally chosen for her role by the satanic Gestapo chief, Reinhard Heydrich. The use of a Jewish courtesan greatly increases the Gestapo’s powers of blackmail. Macrae is taken to the Salon Kitty under false pretences one night, meets Sara and the two begin an affair.

As the world moves towards war in the spring of 1939, the novel tracks the blind diplomacy of West, the unfolding affair between Macrae and Sternschein and the attaché’s final desperate attempt to defy his government kill the German Fuhrer in order to avert a global conflict.

Who Was Colonel Macrae?

The character is based on the actual British military attaché in Berlin in 1938-39, Colonel Noel Mason-MacFarlane. He did indeed propose the assassination of Hitler and argued that in the aftermath the Nazi regime would be swept from power by a military coup. The proposal went as high as the Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax who said, in March 1939:”We have not yet reached a stage in our relations with Germany when we need to substitute assassination for diplomacy.”

As a result Mason-Macfarlane was removed from Berlin and sent back to a desk job in England. He died in 1953 at the early age of 63.


Who was William Shirer?

With Ed Murrow, Shirer was one of the most famous US correspondents of the WW2 era. He was CBS European Bureau Chief based in Berlin in the late 1930s and reported on the rise of Nazi Germany. He stayed in Berlin when war broke out and   followed German armies in their blitzkrieg across the Holland, Belgium and France in the summer of 1940. Censorship and the attentions of the Gestapo forced him to leave Germany at the end of 1940.

Ed Murrow was both a mentor and friend to Shirer but the two men fell out after the war in a broadcasting dispute which resulted in Shirer leaving CBS. As a journalist, Shirer’s reputation rests on his pre-war reporting from Berlin but as an author he is better known for his best-selling and widely praised book, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, published in 1960.Shirer died in 1993 aged 89.

Why is World War 2 so intriguing for a novelist?

Firstly because of the colossal characters involved: Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin painted in vivid colours on a global canvas and changed the history of the 20th century. Those leaders cast long shadows and we feel their presence still. Think what Shakespeare would have done with such men. Secondly, the privations and horrors of wartime allow writers to strip characters to their essence revealing their real emotions at times of danger, sadness or joy.

Thirdly, there is a continuing public fascination with the period; the horrors of Nazi Germany, the insane delusions of Hitler, the ghastly fate of the Jews and other victims amount to a purity of evil which we find impossible to fully understand and for that reason strangely compelling.

Then there is the righteous heroism of the allied forces, principally British and American, whose courage and endurance won the war for the forces of freedom. That is a great morality tale with a strong narrative that conveys a very powerful message. Readers and listeners from the dawn of storytelling like to be told that good does triumph over evil, however fierce the battle.


About the author:

JAMES MACMANUS is the managing director of The Times Literary Supplement. He is the author of Ocean Devil, which was made into a film starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers. His other novels include The Language of the Sea and Black Venus. www.jamesmacmanus.com


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