Cover image of "The Swiss Spy," a novel about spies in Switzerland

The role that Switzerland played in World War II is reasonably well known. Swiss banks laundered the equivalent of billions of dollars in funds seized from Jews and others by the Nazi regime in neighboring Germany. Because the country was officially neutral in the war, Zurich, Geneva, Bern, and other Swiss cities housed spies from every major power in the conflict. In his novel, The Swiss Spy, Alex Gerlis artfully brings together both factors in a gripping novel of espionage.

Switzerland as the center of the action

A man named Henri Hesse on his Swiss passport and Henry Hunter on his British one is pulled from a line at London’s Croydon Airport and presented with a dilemma: serve as an agent for Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (now known as MI6) or go to prison for a long time for having been just a little too clever in his attempt to take a large sum of money out of the country. Because Henry lawfully possesses both passports and speaks English, German, and French without difficulty, he is a ideal catch for British Intelligence. As we learn later in this complex and rewarding tale, he also displays a marked talent for espionage. The story of his steadily deeper involvement in the spy game is highly suspenseful. Though fictional, it’s also based largely on carefully researched historical facts.

The Swiss Spy (Spies #2) by Alex Gerlis (2015) 486 pages ★★★★☆

World War II as a source of fiction

World War II is a bottomless source of fiction of all types, espionage novels not the least among them. No wonder! The war was the most destructive single military conflict in world history, causing an estimated 60 million casualties. A total of 16 million American men and women served during the four years that our country was at war, and it’s likely that similar (if not greater) numbers of Russians and Germans were involved in the conflict as well — not to mention many millions of Japanese, French, Chinese, British, Italians, Indians, Poles, and so many others. And though the USA was at war for just four years, many scholars date the war’s beginning to 1937, when the Japanese invaded China. During the course of the eight years that followed, involving so many millions of people, there is an endless number of stories that might be told.

About the author

British author Alex Gerlis has written two espionage novels. The Swiss Spy was the second. For two decades he worked as an editor and researcher for BBC news.

For more great reading

I’ve reviewed all the Alex Gerlis spy novels published to date at Top-notch spy novels from Alex Gerlis.

My posts 5 top nonfiction books about World War II and The 10 best novels about World War II may interest you.

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If you enjoy reading history in fictional form, check out 20 most enlightening historical novels. And if you’re looking for exciting historical novels, check out Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers.

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