The Quest for Anna Klein

The Quest for Anna Klein

5.0 1
by Thomas H. Cook
     
 

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Thomas Danforth has lived a fortunate life. The son of a wealthy importer, he traveled the world in his youth, and now, in his twenties, he lives in New York City and runs the family business. It is 1939, and the world is on the brink of war, but Danforth’s life is untroubled, his future assured. Then, on a snowy evening walk along Gramercy Park, a friend

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Overview

Thomas Danforth has lived a fortunate life. The son of a wealthy importer, he traveled the world in his youth, and now, in his twenties, he lives in New York City and runs the family business. It is 1939, and the world is on the brink of war, but Danforth’s life is untroubled, his future assured. Then, on a snowy evening walk along Gramercy Park, a friend poses a fateful question. 

As it turns out, this friend has a dangerous idea that can change the world. Danforth is to provide a place where a “brilliant woman” can receive training in firearms and explosives. This is to be the beginning of an international plot carried out by the mysterious Anna Klein—a plot that will ensnare Danforth in more ways than one. When the plan goes wrong and Klein disappears, Danforth’s quest begins: it is a journey of ever-shifting alliances and betrayals that will lead him across a war-torn world in search of answers. Now in his ninety-first year, at the dawn of a troubled new era, he sits in luxury at the Century Club and tells his tale to the young man from Washington he has summoned, for reasons of his own, to hear it.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
At the start of Edgar-winner Cook's thoughtful if less than inspired thriller, Paul Crane, a young American intelligence operative, interviews 91-year-old Thomas Jefferson Danforth at Manhattan's Century Club. Danforth, who believes he has something to offer the government following the recent 9/11 terrorist attacks, tells Crane about a long-ago threat related to Nazi Germany. Flashback to 1939 when Danforth, then a wealthy New Yorker running an importing business with connections throughout Europe, is recruited by his socialite friend and State Department spy, Robert Clayton, for "the Project." This espionage operation involves Anna Klein, a beautiful, accomplished, and mysterious woman, whom Clayton arranges for Danforth to meet in a bar. It's a terrific premise, as if Alan Furst were writing about Mata Hari, but Cook (The Last Talk with Lola Faye) focuses more on finding meaning in the story than on the story itself. Too much cross-cutting between the mostly irrelevant framing narrative and the more compelling core of the novel doesn't help. (June)
Library Journal
Cook (The Last Talk with Lola Faye) is a master of the box-within-a-box story, revealing more of character than crime. His new novel, about a young man's search for a woman he meets, loves, and loses in the tumultuous early 1940s, is one of his best. Anna Klein was slated to assassinate Hitler; the plot was exposed, but is she dead or not? Thomas Danforth spends 40 years hunting for her. At age 91, he sits with a young man from a Washington think tank to talk about it. "I was young like you," he says, "It was a very good feeling, I recall." The denouement doesn't work—too complicated—but once you pick up the book, it's hard to put it down. Halfway through, the old man remembers a passage he memorized as a child: "Though boys throw stones at frogs in sport, the frogs die in earnest." It's a good epitaph for a disturbing but classy novel. VERDICT Cook demonstrates his genius in writing this kind of novel of obsession. His fans will welcome this new addition to his corpus. [See Prepub Alert, 1/24/11.]—David Keymer, Modesto, CA
Kirkus Reviews

Edgar-nominee Cook (The Last Talk with Lola Faye,2010,etc.) plays the spy game in this mystery adventure.

Soon after 9/11, Paul Crane, a young think-tank researcher, interviews Thomas Danforth, an elderly New York City resident who believes he has information relevant to defending America against fanatics. Danforth wants the meeting because Crane wrote an article demanding a revenge-filled response to 9/11. Crane is skeptical, but Danforth unfolds a tale that begins in 1939, when he ran his father's import business. With the war imminent, Danforth was lured into an anti-Nazi conspiracy by his college friend, Robert Clayton. Other characters enter, including Ted Bannion, a disillusioned Spanish Civil War loyalist, and Anna Klein, a mysterious and beautiful young linguist. Captivated by Anna, Danforth accompanies her to Europe, where, with Bannion's help, she intends to organize Spanish Loyalists interned in France into an anti-Nazi force. That scheme fails. The three then decide Danforth will pose as an art dealer seeking Hitler's paintings. The plan is assassination, but theGestapointervenes. Bannion takes cyanide. Klein, by now the object of Danforth's passion, is captured. But because of his father's connections, Danforth is simply deported from Nazi Germany. The narrative regularly shifts from the interview to Danforth's adventures in the abattoir that was Europe in the 1940s, where he sought to learn Anna's fate. Clues hint Anna was a double or triple agent, and Danforth is eventually sent to the Soviet Union to determine her identity. There he's taken for a spy and sent to the gulagfor 12 years. As the story unfolds, Danforth pushes and prods the callow Crane toward understanding the complexity of moral choices, the shadows that obscure love and loyalty and the perils of cause becoming obsession. Absent one minor point, Cook's plot is as captivating as his characters. It's rendered in an often ear-pleasing literary style— "the sewer's most pernicious flotsam"— and laced with dozens of intriguing historical anecdotes.

A knight errant, a labyrinth of deceit, a sure bestseller.

From the Publisher
"Edgar-nominee Cook (The Last Talk with Lola Faye, 2010, etc.) plays the spy game in this mystery adventure.

Soon after 9/11, Paul Crane, a young think-tank researcher, interviews Thomas Danforth, an elderly New York City resident who believes he has information relevant to defending America against fanatics. Danforth wants the meeting because Crane wrote an article demanding a revenge-filled response to 9/11. Crane is skeptical, but Danforth unfolds a tale that begins in 1939, when he ran his father's import business. With the war imminent, Danforth was lured into an anti-Nazi conspiracy by his college friend, Robert Clayton. Other characters enter, including Ted Bannion, a disillusioned Spanish Civil War loyalist, and Anna Klein, a mysterious and beautiful young linguist. Captivated by Anna, Danforth accompanies her to Europe, where, with Bannion's help, she intends to organize Spanish Loyalists interned in France into an anti-Nazi force. That scheme fails. The three then decide Danforth will pose as an art dealer seeking Hitler's paintings. The plan is assassination, but the Gestapo intervenes. Bannion takes cyanide. Klein, by now the object of Danforth's passion, is captured. But because of his father's connections, Danforth is simply deported from Nazi Germany. The narrative regularly shifts from the interview to Danforth's adventures in the abattoir that was Europe in the 1940s, where he sought to learn Anna's fate. Clues hint Anna was a double or triple agent, and Danforth is eventually sent to the Soviet Union to determine her identity. There he's taken for a spy and sent to the gulag for 12 years. As the story unfolds, Danforth pushes and prods the callow Crane toward understanding the complexity of moral choices, the shadows that obscure love and loyalty and the perils of cause becoming obsession. Absent one minor point, Cook's plot is as captivating as his characters. It's rendered in an often ear-pleasing literary style— "the sewer's most pernicious flotsam"— and laced with dozens of intriguing historical anecdotes. A knight errant, a labyrinth of deceit, a sure bestseller." —Kirkus Reviews

"Thomas Cook's work is elegant, philosophical, and literary. This book is to be treasured, and is bound to earn him new readers. Grade A" —Cleveland Plain Dealer

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780547364643
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
06/21/2011
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

Century Club, New York City, 2001

The question was never whether she would live or die, for that had been decided long ago.
 Danforth had said this flatly at one point deep in our conversation, a conclusion he’d evidently come to by way of a painful journey.
 It had taken time for him to reach this particular remark. As I’d learned by then, he was a man who kept to his own measured pace. After our initial greeting, for example, he’d taken an agonizingly slow sip from his scotch and offered a quiet, grandfatherly smile. “People in their clubs,” he said softly. “Isn’t that how Fitzgerald put it? People in their clubs who set down their drinks and recalled their old best dreams. I must seem that way to you. An old man with a head full of woolly memories.” His smile was like an arrow launched from a great distance. “But even old men can be dangerous.”
 I’d come to New York from Washington, traveled from one stricken city to another, it seemed, a novice member of the think tank that had recently hired me. My older colleagues had manned the desks of what had once been called Soviet Studies. They’d been very assiduous in these studies. There’d hardly been a ruble spent on missiles or manure that they hadn’t recorded and scrutinized. But for all that, not one of them had foreseen the abrupt collapse of the Soviet Union, how it would simply dissolve into the liquefying fat of its own simmering corruption. That stunning failure in forecasting had shaken their confidence to the core and sent them scrambling for an explanation. They’d still been searching for it years later when the attack had come even more staggeringly out of nowhere. That had been a far graver failure to understand the enemy at our gates, and it had sharply, and quite conveniently for me, changed their focus. Now I, the youngest of their number, their latest hire, had been dispatched to interview Thomas Jefferson Danforth, a man I’d never heard of but who’d written to tell me that he had “experience” that might prove useful, as he’d put it, to “policymakers” such as myself, “especially now.” The interview was not a prospect I relished, and I knew it to be the sort of task doled out to freshman colleagues more or less as a training exercise, but it was better than standing guard at the copying machine or fetching great stacks of research materials from the bowels of various government agencies.
 “I remember that line of Fitzgerald’s,” I told Danforth, just to let him know that, although a mere wisp of a boy by his lights, I was well educated, perhaps even a tad worldly. “It was about Lindbergh. How ‘people set down their glasses in country clubs,’ struck by what he’d done.”
 “A solo flight across the Atlantic that reminded them of what they’d once been or had hoped to be,” Danforth added. Now his smile suddenly seemed deeply weighted, like a bet against the odds. “Youth is a country with closed borders,” he said. “All that’s valuable must be smuggled in.”
 I assumed this remark was rhetorical and found it somewhat condescending, but our conversation had just begun and so I let it pass.
 Danforth winced as he shifted in his chair. “Old bones,” he explained. “So, what is your mission, Mr. Crane? The grand one, I mean.”
 “Our country’s good,” I answered. “Is that grand enough?”
 What remained of Danforth’s smile vanished. “I was young like you.” His voice was even, his tone cautionary, as if he regarded my youth as an animal that could easily turn on me. “Clever and self-confident. It was a very good feeling, as I recall.”

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