Finisterre by Graham Hurley

Review published on May 28, 2017.

It is September 1944: knowing that the war cannot be won, and desperate to avoid having to accept unconditional surrender, the German intelligence service launches Operation Finisterre in the hope of convincing the British and American governments to negotiate a peace deal with Hitler. The success of this mission is dependent on the actions of two men, who are involved in two apparently unconnected incidents.

Twenty-four-year-old Stefan Portisch, the experienced and well-decorated captain of a German U-boat, is charged with taking five SS men, along with their mysterious cargo, to Lisbon on a top-secret mission. However, when crossing the Bay of Biscay in a storm, his vessel sinks and the crew is forced to abandon ship. Badly injured, Stefan is washed ashore at a small fishing village on the coast of Spain and subsequently discovers that he is the only survivor. He is cared for by Eva, an activist during the Spanish Civil War, and soon falls in love with her. Disillusioned about continuing to fight for a cause that is both flawed and doomed, whilst he is recovering from his injuries he realises that he must make a decision about his future. However, when he is betrayed to the Germans, he discovers that achieving what he wants, a future with Eva, will depend on his cooperation with German intelligence agents in their plan to feed false information to the Allied Forces.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Hector Gómez, an ex-FBI agent, now a counter-intelligence officer with the US Army and based at the American atomic bomb complex at Los Alamos, is investigating the apparent suicide of one of the scientists, a German Jew who had escaped to America before the war. Unconvinced by the evidence presented, his investigations finally leads Hector across the border into Mexico where, uncovering a complex espionage plot, he finds himself in grave danger. Along the way he meets Yolanda, a Spanish American woman who is fighting for civil rights in the USA, and, like Stefan, he too falls in love.

The narrative switches every few pages as it tells the parallel stories of the two main characters. Initially I found theses frequent switches rather frustrating but, once I had adapted to the style, I found that this device helped to increase the dramatic tension in a very effective way. There is, of course, an assumption that the apparently disparate scenarios will eventually merge to make a coherent whole, but there were enough mysteries along the way to make it an interesting, and not too predictable, journey. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of life on a U-boat and thought that the author captured the atmosphere of camaraderie, trust and loyalty which develops between men forced to live in such an isolated, claustrophobic world – comparisons between the highly evocative descriptions in Das Boot and this book are well-deserved.

Although much of the historical background was very familiar to me, I thought that the author used his research in a very effective way, blending fact and fiction in a way that felt convincing. I thought that the rivalry and power-games between the respective governments’ agencies, as well as between the countries involved, were very well-portrayed, adding an extra layer of confusion to the intricate negotiations needed in order to broker a face-saving peace treaty for the Germans.

I found this an entertaining and engaging read, but I do have a couple of niggling criticisms. I thought that the romantic relationships were portrayed rather less successfully than other character-development, and that there were times when they distracted from the developing tension. I also found the ending to be rather rushed after the slow, but engagingly reflective build-up. This is the first book I have read by this author and, based on the overall quality of his writing, and his convincing plotting, I feel encouraged to try another of his novels.

Linda Hepworth 4/3

Finisterre by Graham Hurley
Head of Zeus 9781784977832 pbk Jun 2017

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