And finding love amidst the chaos of war is nearly impossible, but that’s precisely what Anne Barwell’s characters do in Shadowboxing, the suspenseful and action packed story of romance and danger set against the backdrop of Nazi run Germany during World War II.
Kristopher Lehrer is the brilliant scientist from a socially prominent family who is working to invent the A-bomb, though he’s operating in a need-to-know situation in which his superiors believe he doesn’t need to know that he’s little more than a cog in their war machine. Kristopher’s ignorance of his part in the Nazi’s plan, entirely unaware the formulas he’s manipulating will ultimately be used to a devastating end, leaves Kristopher dumbfounded once he understands his role in its creation. His duty to the Fatherland becomes inconsequential when compared to his conscience and compassion. They will, under no uncertain terms, allow him to support the führer in his insane bid for genocide and tyranny, especially after having recently lost his friend David, a Jew who disappears under mysterious circumstances, though not before the man delivers a grim and prophetic warning to Kristopher.
Escape is not a viable option but becomes Kristopher’s only choice as the thrilling race begins; the race to thwart the Nazi agenda, the race to save his own humanity as he steals the blueprints but is threatened time and time again by the Gestapo, who are determined to carry out Hitler’s mad bid for dominance.
Kristopher has help along the way, help from Michel, the Frenchman masquerading as a German soldier, as well as from the German Resistance and British and American allies. As the cat and mouse pursuit unfolds in dramatic fashion, the Gestapo always seeming to be one step ahead of the game, small battles are won and lost in the whole of the fight to outrun and thwart the enemy.
Parallel love stories run as an aside to the action and suspense as Michel and Kristopher, along with two American operatives, Matt and Ken, fight to overcome so many obstacles—including their own doubts and insecurities—to attempt to carve even the smallest bit of happiness from the impossible odds stacked against them. Their connections allow dreams of a future within a scenario of waking nightmares, offering a modicum of peace amongst the chaos.
There are no guarantees in life. In war, there are no guarantees of life beyond the next hour, the next day, and nothing pinpoints that fact as much as the way the author chose to end this book. Who knows whether these men lived to love another day? Who knows if either couple managed to carve a life together out of the rubble of a war that destroyed so many millions? Anne Barwell wisely chooses to allow the reader to finish the story and to imagine that life did indeed go on for these men in spite of the near insurmountable barriers they must overcome.
It might not be a wholly satisfying ending for some, but it worked for me, due in large part to the way the author drew me into the lives of her characters and made me want that happy ending for them, even if it’s one I have to imagine for them on my own.