Two families, two sons, and the devastating complications that engulf their lives during one weekend in April, 1961, provide a unique perspective on international gamesmanship in Berlin during the Cold War. These are tense times, border incidents are frequent, and the Berlin Wall is only days away from construction. At age seventeen, Michael Montgomery and Rick Healy are less concerned with the complications of the Cold War than they are with their rebellions against their fathers. Both are "trying on" new political ideas--in Rick's case, the idealistic goals of socialism and the philosophy of Marcuse.
In alternating sections, Paul Montgomery, the father, and Michael Montgomery, the son, each reveal their thoughts and hopes for the future, and as the story unfolds, Carroll creates two entirely separate worlds, each fully drawn and presented as truth. The reader, moving back and forth between the generations, has the advantage both of hindsight regarding the Berlin crisis and insight into all the characters, and the story comes alive in the best narrative tradition. When Michael, Rick, and their friend Katharine Carson decide to skip school and go to East Berlin for the May Day parade and weekend festivities, Rick takes his stepfather's duffle bag, which, unbeknownst to him, contains some important film. The ensuing turmoil, which traps them in the eastern sector, involves both families as they try to avoid a potential international cataclysm.
Through his focus on families affected by the Cold War, Carroll achieves more universality than one usually expects of the thriller genre. The emotional context he creates for the international intrigue leads the reader to identify with both the adults and the young people and to observe the "wall" existing between them. The title, suggesting a "secret father" lurking in the background, tantalizes the reader with infinite possibilities and plot complications throughout the novel, but exactly how this person affects the conclusion may come as a surprise. Though the book is sometimes a bit melodramatic, it is a thoughtful thriller, full of betrayals, threats, murder, and international skullduggery, and it brings the traditional Cold War espionage story to new life. Mary Whipple