Traitor's Gate: a review of The Quest for Anna Klein by Thomas H. Cook

The Quest for Anna Klein: An Otto Penzler Book
Cover art:
Houghton, Miffllin, Harcourt
Rache is a German word meaning vengeance, it's also the code name of the pivotal character in Thomas H. Cook's new wartime psychological thriller, The Quest for Anna Klein. The novel, a narrative within a narrative, alternately reveals the story of Thomas Jefferson Danforth -- an heir to wealth, who, in 1939 as a young man in his twenties, found himself, unchallenged, running the family importing business from its opulent New York offices -- and his confessor, Paul, a novice employee of a Washington think tank concerning itself with what was once known as Soviet Studies. They meet in New York City, at the invitation of a ninety-one-year-old Danforth, in the winter of 2001 for what the elder thought might prove a useful exchange of intelligence, especially in light of the recent terrorist attacks.

Cook treats the reader to more than just another WWII espionage thriller, The Quest for Anna Klein, is as it denotes, a story of a quest; the journey of one man's life dedicated to his singular great obsession: the woman he loves. Anna Klein is simply a woman of circumstance; a master linguist, a natural-born chameleon with a haunted past, who is enlisted for a "Project" by the OSS or some such cloak and dagger agency. Danforth happens into the mix as he is called upon by an operative, his close associate named Clayton, to provide his upstate retreat as the setting for Anna's secret training. Drawn in by the obvious intrigue, he quickly agrees. So it is there at Winterset (an apt name for the estate) where she is expertly coached in the ballistic arts, and where, for Danforth and Anna, the seeds of love first germinate.

The author uses the juxtaposition of Hitler's Germany and the post terrorist United States as a kind of diptych with which to draw similarities of ethos and pathos; a sort of caveat to the vagaries of war. On one side of the canvas, Danforth and Anna, with the help of a master spy named Bannion, plot to murder a worrisome upstart in Germany. But Rache, a sort of double agent, intervenes allowing the twins Vengeance and Betrayal to dominate its palette. On the other side, the negative space where twin edifices once towered, symbols of wealth and prosperity to some, gluttony and greed to others; For Paul, an unfinished painting.

The Author Thomas H. Cook
In the espionage world there is something called the traitor's gate, a trap of sorts, an invitation to disaster, an open threshold beyond which lies only the bonds of self destruction. Danforth, in his pursuit of Anna, steps through this metaphorical doorway and pays the price. But will Paul and his DC employers heed what Danforth calls his simple parable? More importantly, will the world at large, in this era of global terrorism and religious upheaval, ever get the message that Mr. Cook deigns to impart? I seriously doubt it.Vengeance in the name of blind faith is and has always been a very powerful tenet.

 The Quest for Anna Klein is just the sort of uncommon thriller which serves to bend the genre. Cook is a careful writer capable of thoughtful, reflective prose that does not lull you to sleep, rather it draws you like a vortex into its depths.

~ Book Jones 4.0 Stars*

  • Title: The Quest for Anna Klein: An Otto Penzler Book
  • Author: Thomas H. Cook
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (June 21, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0547364644
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547364643
*Thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Net Galley for the ARC which made this review possible