LOOKING FORWARD: NEW BLOCKBUSTER BY MATTHEW REILLY – MR EINSTEIN’S SECRETARY
Australian author Matthew Reilly is best known for his wild, over-the-top thrillers that have captivated readers around the world. However, with Mr Einstein’s Secretary (Macmillan), due out in October, he steps back from the fantastical themes of his recent books, and heads into the realm of the historical spy fiction novel.
The story revolves around Hanna Fischer, a young German woman who wanted to study physics under her parent’s friend Albert Einstein. Germany after the end of World War I, however, is not a safe place to be and after a terrible tragedy she finds herself on a boat to America and new life. Once in America she trains to be a secretary, and begins a career that will encompass New York gangsters, Nazis thugs, atomic secrets, and family intrigue.
The book is cleverly structured around Hanna’s various jobs as a secretary: firstly working for a shrewd American businessman and later for Nazis, including Albert Speer and Martin Bormann, and of course for Albert Einstein. Interspersed into the story at regular intervals, are extracts from the three interrogations that Hanna endured during her life, by the American military in 1933, the Nazis in 1942 and the Russians in 1945.
I won’t go into the detail of the plot, but it is fast moving story that traverses a rich slice of historical time. Over the course of the book, Hanna becomes caught up with ‘Lucky’ Luciano and other prohibition gangsters, crooked American businessmen, Albert Speer and his Nazis colleagues, pre-eminent scientists, and a very dangerous Russian agent. Running through the book is an espionage sub-plot around the potential of atomic power, which eventually comes to a tense and violent conclusion in Berlin. There are various strands to the story, as well as frequent flashbacks and flashforwards, and a neat twist to the telling that only becomes clear in the final pages. After a very full plot, the various elements and characters come together in a satisfactory manner at the end, amid a few surprises.
Structurally the book is quite complex, but Reilly makes it easy to follow, and the various flashes back and forth between timelines keeps it interesting, and adds to the suspense. As with any Reilly novel some suspension of disbelief is required, especially around the chance encounters and coincidences that occur, but it is easy to overlook this and just go with the flow. The action is not as wild as in his other novels, but there are still some very exciting set-pieces and a good climax.
Hanna is an engaging narrator and there is a wealth of historical detail from the well-known to the obscure. The historical figures mix well with the fictional ones, and Reilly’s portrayal of the Nazis rulers, particularly Albert Speer, is quite brutal. I particularly enjoyed the early detail about the Hanna’s training as a secretary – “RULE #1: Your job is to help your boss to do his job!” – and her ability to slip into the background. Hanna’s sister, Ooma, is also a fascinating character who plays an important part in the story.
In all, I really enjoyed Mr Einstein’s Secretary. It may not have the depth of some spy novels, but it is a good fun read.
Mr Einstein’s Secretary is not released until October 2023, but it is worth keeping an eye out for.
Thanks to the publisher and the Canberra Weekly for an early copy of the book for review.