The Nostradamus Traitor begins in London in 1978, when what appears to be an old lady tourist from Germany approaches a Beefeater at the Tower of London. Instead of the usual touristy question, though, Frau Fenderman is looking for information about her long-dead husband, Claus Fenderman, who she says was a spy for Germany in World War II and was hanged at the Tower.
This hot potato lands in the lap of British Intelligence veteran Herbie Kruger. It's only fair, really, since Herbie speaks German, having been born in Berlin. Herbie was a young boy during World War II, living in Berlin with the mother who lost her husband to a battle with an RAF pilot. Herbie'd lost his father, but he also lost his friends, Jewish friends, and he knew what the Nazis had done to them, so when the Allies arrived, he immediately made himself useful to them. He's spent decades running agents for Britain in the Cold War, and now he's nearing the end of his career.
Frau Fenderman's story seems plausible to Herbie and he even wonders if she might be a possible contact for his espionage group when she returns to Germany. But then things start to smell funny. There is no record of a spy named Claus Fenderman having been hanged at the Tower––or anywhere else in Britain, for that matter. Frau Fenderman also seems to be more familiar with London's streets than she should be. The suspicious smell becomes overwhelming when somebody takes a shot at the lady outside her London hotel.
What little history Herbie can winkle out of the old files hints that Claus Fenderman had something to do with a British wartime intelligence con game called Operation Nostradamus. Herbie sits down with an old acquaintance in the Foreign Office, George Thomas, to find out about Operation Nostradamus, which attempted to distract and discombobulate some of the top Nazis with a mix of real and fake prophecies from Nostradamus's famed 16th-century mystical book. (If you've watched The History Channel––or even Raiders of the Lost Ark––you know that several of the top men in the Third Reich, including Josef Goebbels and Hitler himself, were a little looney on the subject of the occult and were always ready to believe any psychic, soothsayer or mythologist who said––or seemed to say––encouraging things about the Third Reich's glorious destiny.)
Operation Nostradamus was George Thomas's first mission for the Special Operations Executive. He was dropped into France and instructed to contact a deep undercover agent, Michel Downay, who had cozied up to a couple of SS officers and was advising them about Nostradamus. George's job was to impersonate an academic specializing in Nostradamus, an ostensible colleague of Downay, and then get in with those selfsame SS officers and feed them Nostradamian misinformation. George had the heebie-jeebies about going behind enemy lines, period, but having to spend so much time with the SS really didn't help. And could he really count on Downay's being on the side of the Allies? How about Angelle, the alluring refugee living in Downay's apartment? Was she just a trap waiting to be sprung?
In The Nostradamus Traitor, Gardner takes us back and forth between Herbie's 1978 investigation of Frau Fenderman and the attempt on her life, and George Thomas's account of his espionage work in 1941. As Herbie's dogged sleuthing and George Thomas's story progress, Herbie sees that Operation Nostradamus in 1941 and Frau Fenderman in 1978 are more connected than than he'd thought––and the connection presents tremendous danger in the current day.
This book is a cracking tale of classic espionage, with plenty of atmosphere and tension–––but also generous splashes of dry British humor. I'm excited that there are still four more books in the Herbie Kruger series for me to read.
Disclosure: I received a publisher's review copy of The Nostradamus Traitor.