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3.5 Stars. The Two Hotels Francforts
on 9 November 2013
Pete and Julia Winter, expatriate Americans, are forced to leave their Paris home in the summer of 1940 when Hitler's forces invade and, dodging shellfire and mortar fire, they drive all the way across France, through Spain and arrive in Lisbon, Portugal. There, at the only neutral port left in Europe, they wait for the arrival of the SS Manhattan, a ship which the State Department has dispatched to retrieve stranded Americans. Surrounded by refugees of all nationalities, Pete and Julia while away their time at the Suica Cafe, where they meet Edward and Iris Frelengs, a worldly, bohemian, independently wealthy couple who have travelled widely and are keen to take the Winters under their wing. However, although the Frelengs, who jointly write detective novels under the name of Xavier Legrand, both intrigue and fascinate Pete and Julia, we begin to see that they are manipulative and controlling characters locked in a dysfunctional marriage, and soon the Winters become deeply involved in a situation that we know can only end unhappily.
First-person narrated by Pete, this skilfully composed and well-researched novel (three pages of bibliography appear at the end of the book) is one that pulls you into the story from the first pages and, once I started reading, I carried on straight to the end. I do have to say, however, that the main protagonists are not very sympathetic, nor fully-fleshed as characters, and certain aspects of the plot were not entirely convincing - but I'm afraid that I can't explain further without including spoilers. That said, I enjoyed reading this novel, becoming intrigued by the characters' predicament and keen to see how, and if, the situation would be finally be resolved.