|Perfidia unfolds in the blacks, whites and grays of old films. The kind featuring silk stockings, smoke-filled night clubs, extraordinary courage - and Nazis.
Following a personal disappointment, Sophie de Havilland leaves England for Germany. Thanks to her social connections, blonde elegance and cool aristocratic charm, she is an instant success in Berlin's hedonistic aristocratic circles. She has no quarrel with the Nazis and their leader. As far as she is concerned, the Führer brought Germany out of economic disaster and provided jobs for everyone, including women. His programs for "re-education" are just that: training for those who need it. Sophie doesn't understand why her British-born aunt wants to leave, but she nevertheless enlists a high-ranking S.S. officer, Baron Karl von Richten, to help her do so. In exchange, he asks her to move in with him.
Karl is, in fact, a double agent working to overthrow the regime. He is attracted to Sophie, but doesn't think she is anything but a flighty socialite. Even if he didn't prefer to keep all his efforts focused on his main objective, she wouldn't be the sort of person he could trust with his heart, let alone his life.
A visit to the nearby "work" camp of Sachsenhausen and the outbreak of war force Sophie to open her eyes as do the impact of Nazi policy on her friends and acquaintances. After awareness comes action. This eventually earns Sophie Karl's respect, admiration and much, much more.
Sophie is a likeable character throughout the book, and her backbone and kindness are always evident. At the beginning, however, she is a little too self-centered and doesn't always display true heroine material. Karl is quite right not to trust her with weighty secrets and heroic acts. This obvious imperfection makes Sophie a highly plausible character, one who embodies the carefree but self-deluding atmosphere of the time. She develops considerably, and the novel realistically details her growing realization of what she must do.
Karl isn't as fleshed out, perhaps because most of the story is told through Sophie's point of view. There are only a few glimpses of his daily routine and very little exploration of the difficulties he faces, in particular the schizophrenia and paranoia that accompanies the life of an undercover agent. As a result, I didn't always feel he was acting in character. For a man who must keep secrets, he is a little too eager to help Sophie's aunt and much too transparent about his distaste for certain individuals. His growing feelings for Sophie are, on the other hand, much more credible.
The novel is well-paced and well-written, making it an effortless and thoroughly gripping experience. McKendrick, who as Morag McKendrick Pippin has written historical romances set in unexpected periods and places, does a wonderful job conveying the uneasy atmosphere of the time. I smelt the stale cigarette smoke; I saw the forced smiles; I heard the threatening undertones. Need I say more?