Britta Stein has a story to tell in Ronald H. Balson’s latest Catherine Lockhart/Liam Taggart novel, Defending Britta Stein. Her story encompasses World War II Denmark, her courageous family, the continuing Catherine and Liam saga, courtroom drama, and pertinent and timeless questions of morality.
Video footage has captured 92-year-old Britta spraypainting the words “Liar, Traitor, Nazi Collaborator, and Betrayer” on the outside wall of 95-year-old Ole Henryks’s, Melancholy Dane, a popular Chicago restaurant. Ole, who is soon to receive entry into the Danish-American Association’s Hall of Fame, vehemently denies the accusations, claims he is a hero who saved Jews, and insists on his day in court in order to clear his name. Britta is up for the battle.
Defending Britta Stein interweaves two narratives: Britta’s serialized account of her early life in Denmark and the present-day court case. It’s evident that Balson, an attorney as well as author, has done extensive research. He adeptly and profoundly chronicles Denmark’s remarkable WWII historical timeline as well as expertly sharing his legal knowledge and experiences. Historical fiction enthusiasts will appreciate the substantial attention given to dates, facts, and famous and infamous individuals of the time.
As Britta slowly and sometimes painstakingly unfolds her story, she focuses on the day- to-day life of Danish Jews before, during, and after the war. She recounts the terror of the Nazi presence, Gestapo infiltration tactics, political maneuverings, and the successes and failures of the strong and committed Danish Resistance movement. Her father is a respected member of the Folketing (Parliament), her sister and brother-in-law work for the Resistance, and her keen observations demonstrate how Berlin’s hands tightened around their existence.
Yet almost all of Denmark’s 8,000 Jews were saved by its heroic leaders and populace. The Danes systematically and willingly warned the Jews of the impending German Rosh Hashanah roundups, courageously hid them, transported them by fishing boats to neutral Sweden, and then welcomed them back to their waiting homes and businesses.
Britta’s decades old reminiscences are heavily descriptive, and the detail-laden information provides strong character development and intriguing storytelling while keeping the narrative engaging and suspenseful. Her courage and perseverance are a lesson for a new Balson character, Britta’s beloved granddaughter, Emma Fisher. Emma is a young attorney who appears as co-counsel with Catherine in Britta’s case.
The parallel story highlights Lockhart’s dramatic legal procedures, strategies, and courtroom scenes. Taggart’s detective work takes him to Copenhagen where his research and sources furnish background and evidence to attempt to give proof to Britta’s accusatory words. The couple’s fans are treated to more time and insights into their personal and professional lives. Issues of the current day legal system, grandstanding celebrity lawyers, and media manipulation and persuasion are addressed.
Ole Henryks tries to rewrite history as Britta Stein relates her moving account to try to right it. The reader grapples with the themes of good and evil, truth and lies, courage and betrayal, and punishment and revenge. Defending Britta Stein is an inspirational and absorbing work.
Renita Last is a member of the Nassau Region of Hadassah’s Executive Board. She has coordinated the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Programming and Health Coordinators and as a member of the Advocacy Committee.
She has volunteered as a docent at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County teaching the all- important lessons of the Holocaust and tolerance. A retired teacher of the Gifted and Talented, she loves participating in book clubs and writing projects.