Picks and Pans Review: The Secret Father

UPDATED 09/01/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/01/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

By James Carroll
Critic's Choice

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Could the reckless escapades of three adventure-seeking high school kids in 1961 really threaten to trigger a third world war? It's a stretch, but Carroll's thriller is a dandy anyway. Michael, Kit and Ulrich are students at an American high school in West Germany who are arrested on trumped-up charges during a visit to East Berlin. The Wall is about to go up and tensions between East and West are stretched as taut as barbed wire as the kids' parents fight for their release in the murk of a Nazi past and a Stasi present.

Weaving history with political intrigue and the dark and complex pasts of families, Carroll creates a gripping tale of deceit and loyalty, passion and despair, revenge and love. The psychological undercurrents are as charged as the Cold War drama, making this a doubly rewarding read. (Houghton Mifflin, $25)

BOTTOM LINE: Powerful political thriller

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