Defending Britta Stein (Book 6 Liam Taggert and Catherine Lockhart)
Ronald H. Balson
St. Martin’s Press
Sept 7th, 2021
Defending Britta Stein by Ronald H. Balson is a wonderful read. Although the book has some courtroom drama including legal strategy and loopholes, most of the story is Britta Stein’s recounting of the events leading up to and during World War II in Denmark. This is historical fiction at its best with bravery, betrayal, and redemption.
Britta Stein is a 92-year-old Jewish Danish woman who emigrated to America. She is being sued for defamation after being seen and then admitting to spray painting “Coward,” “Traitor,” “Collaborator,” and “War Criminal” on the walls of a restaurant. The owner, 95-year-old Ole Henryks, will be honored by the Danish/American Association for his many civic and charitable contributions. Frequently appearing on local TV, he is well known for his actions of saving Jews in Nazi-occupied Denmark during World War II and is considered a hero. But not to Britta who claims he was anything but and sent Jews to their deaths including her sister and brother-in-law.
Attorney Catherine Lockhart and Investigator Liam Taggart, husband, and wife, have agreed to defend Britta and have as an assistant counsel her granddaughter Emma. The plot alternates between present day Chicago (2018) and Britta’s oral account of her memories of her homeland of Denmark prior to the presence of the Nazis and during World War II. They are up against “Six o’clock” Sterling Sparks, Henryk’s’ shady attorney, who pushes for a speedy trial and is willing to waive witness lists and pretrial exhibits. Readers anxiously turn the pages hoping Britta will be vindicated since they take a journey with her during the horrific events.
What is very interesting is the way Balson contrasts defamation versus freedom of speech, the consequences of staying versus leaving, and Denmark’s role in protecting its Jewish citizens. “I wanted to show how the Danes were wonderful. I hoped to get across through the civil jury trial here in America what it was like to be a Dane and Jewish. As I recounted in the book, there were plenty of non-Jews who put themselves at risk to help save the 7600 Jewish citizens in Denmark. They were hidden in hospitals, churches, stores, and homes. Many also helped the Jews get to Sweden. I wanted to show how the Danes had emotional pride and belief in their own country.”
“I have this scene in the book between Catherine her lawyer, and Britta. Catherine says, “I know it’s easy for me to say in hindsight, and it’s not fair, I shouldn’t judge, but the consequences of staying were dire, yet they found some reason to ignore the writing on the wall, which to me defies logic and good sense.” Britta responds, that if they could see into the future a wiser decision could have been made; yet, they “would have packed up and left everything and everyone… your job, your home, your profession, and headed off blindly in some unknown direction… At that time, in 1943 Hitler owned Europe.” It is a constant theme in a lot of my books. They all had the same opportunity to leave. But how does someone leave everything including family and community. Where would they go? How many countries would have taken in millions of Jews? What the Nazis did continued to escalate, and no one could imagine the concentration camps. Many thought they could last out the war.”
This book will stay with readers well after they finish the book. The author has an incredible way of telling a story with sympathetic heroes and monstrous villains before and during World War II. The story has mystery, intrigue, suspense, and history all intertwined into a riveting novel.