Andrew Gross’s latest novel is a well-done story dealing with falling and subsequent redemption. The book takes place in New York City during a period just prior to the U.S entering World War II. Europe is ablaze with war with Great Britain, and France was confronting a German military machine set to overrun them. Feelings are running high in the U.S. with than president Franklin Roosevelt trying to keep the country out of the war. There are groups of pro-Nazi sympathizers pushing an agenda for America to enter the war on the German side and others favoring the Allies.
Charles Mossman is a young man with little or no political agenda who is in the position of just losing his job teaching at the university level and also facing the end of his marriage. He is in a bar getting drunk, across the street from a pro-Nazi rally in Madison Square Garden in Manhattan when several pro-Hitler men draped in Swastika flags and drunk enter the bar. Charles gets into a fight with them and in a drunken wild swing accidentally kills a young man standing close to the melee.
Sentenced to prison for one count of accidental homicide, he serves two years and is released into a situation with no prospects for a job due to his prison record and his wife not wanting him around. The only bright spot is that his wife does allow him visits to Emma, his daughter twice a week. They live in a section of New York City with many people showing support for Hitler. In the course of his visits Charles meets neighbors Trudi and Willi Bauer living across the hall from his family and develops a feeling in his gut that these people are not the Swiss they claim they are but secret Nazi sympathizers.
Gross, in a mesmerizing chain of events, tells the story of Charles’ actions and results with what he knows and what he finds out. The attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entrance on the side of the allies in the war is a well-described background to the story. Certainly a compelling all night read, “The Fifth Column” continues the author’s sequence of excellent books.
9/19 Paul Lane
THE FIFTH COLUMN by Andrew Gross. Minotaur Books (September 10, 2019). ISBN 978-1250180001. 336p.