Way back in the spring of 2002 a friend invited me to spend the weekend at the beach with a house full of complete strangers. (Make a long story short, they were terrific people and I had a great time.) Late Saturday morning after an evening of late night festivities we were sitting around treating our hangovers and lack of sleep with some light breakfast and coffee when a couple of us began talking about books. After I told him I enjoyed history he recommended a book called Constantine’s Sword. As luck would have it, a month or so later a buddy and I were rummaging through a second hand bookstore and what did I come across but a used copy of James Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews. Following that guy’s advice I bought the book and later that weekend eagerly dived into it. After reading just the first dozen pages I quickly realized I was the recipient of excellent advice.
Flash forward to 2020 and I’m wandering the shelves at my rural public library and what do I find but Warburg in Rome, a 2014 novel by James Carroll, the author of Constantine’s Sword. Seeing it’s set in Italy (and therefore applicable towards Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge) near the end of WWII and the years following it I couldn’t resist. In the end I found Warburg in Rome reasonably entertaining, even though I wouldn’t put it in the same league with other WWII-era historical thrillers by Alan Furst or Philip Kerr. But hey who cares?
In June 1944, just as the Allies are invading Normandy, two American men touch down in recently liberated Rome. One, a secular Jew, is David Warburg from the US War Refugee Board, sent to assist Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis and their Fascist allies. The other, Monsignor Kevin Deane, a Catholic priest from New York City also sent to provide aid and comfort to the afflicted. Despite their religious differences the two become fast friends and end up encountering a host of diverse characters ranging from a beautiful yet shadowy French-Italian Red Cross worker, a Jewish resistance leader, an ambitious young German priest with ties to Hitler’s inner circle and an English nun proficient in cryptography. Later, after Germany’s surrender they discover a secret network deep within the Vatican to help wanted Nazi war criminals flee to Argentina.
Like I mentioned earlier, Warburg in Rome probably isn’t the best historical thriller I’ve read but it kept me entertained so I’m happy I read it. I’m also happy I went to the beach that weekend years ago with a bunch of total strangers. Had I not, I might never of read anything by James Carroll.