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Defending Britta Stein

Review

Defending Britta Stein

In DEFENDING BRITTA STEIN, attorney Catherine Lockhart and her husband, private investigator Liam Taggert, are the actors whose actions bring about justice in an unlikely manner. As is standard in Ronald H. Balson's novels, there is a story within a story, and Catherine and Liam are the vehicles through which both plot lines are told. The storytelling is gripping, and the book showcases the unity and bravery of the Danish people in saving most of their population of Jews during World War II when the Germans chose to implement their Final Solution on the Jews of Denmark.

DEFENDING BRITTA STEIN centers on well-known restaurateur Ole Henryks, who owns The Melancholy Dane, a popular eating spot on the North Side of Chicago. The Danish community is honoring him for his self-professed bravery and heroism during WWII when he ferried the Jews to Sweden and to safety. But when someone spray-paints defamatory words on the walls of his restaurant, he is bereft. "Traitor," "Nazi collaborator" and other slurs are left there night after night until he installs a video camera and catches Britta Stein, a diminutive 92-year-old woman, in the act. She is arrested, and he decides to sue her for defamation to restore his good name.

"It's truly inspirational to read of a country where the people are so united by their patriotism that all citizens, regardless of religious beliefs, are considered brothers and sisters worthy of saving at any cost."

But Britta is defiant, and her granddaughter, Emma, is desperate to get an attorney to represent her. Catherine meets with Britta, who almost proudly states that she was indeed the author of those words on the walls of The Melancholy Dane. She claims that what she wrote is all true, which would be a defense to the defamation accusation. Catherine agrees to defend Britta, and they schedule meetings to go over the case.

With Emma at her side, Britta insists on telling Catherine her story as she sees fit, with all of the Danish history and background she thinks is necessary. However, Britta and Ole are nonagenarians, and the trial will begin soon. Will she provide Catherine with the information they need to be successful? Will Liam, who flew to Denmark to research Britta's claims, be able to get proof of who Ole really is and what he did? The trial is only weeks away, and Britta's long-winded story and poor health make the situation more difficult for Catherine as she tries to prepare for a trial that surely will be a media circus.

In the meantime, we learn about Britta’s experiences in Denmark. The Jewish Danes were Danish first, so religion wasn't of utmost importance to most of them and rarely was a source of division. So they felt just as Danish as the Lutherans, and all or most of them defended every Dane's right to live freely and without restrictions. Hitler allowed them that freedom because Germany needed Denmark's geographic location to get to Sweden and its rich materials that were so vital to the war effort.

But eventually Germany grew tired of this arrangement and ordered that the Jews be rounded up and transported. Over 7,500 of them were saved by ordinary Danes who hid them, took them to hospitals under fake names, and sailed them to Sweden. There were exceptions, but only around 300 Danish Jews were deported thanks to the unified efforts of the Danish people. Balson makes this extraordinary event real and immediate through Britta's emotional narrative.

The courtroom drama is equally riveting. How will Britta overcome Ole’s defamation lawsuit? We learn about the machinations that are possible, and we see how Catherine (and ultimately Britta herself) adroitly manipulates both the legal process and the pompous opposing counsel who will stop at nothing to promote himself at the expense of truth and honor.

DEFENDING BRITTA STEIN will keep readers as enthralled in Britta's story as Catherine appears to be. It's truly inspirational to read of a country where the people are so united by their patriotism that all citizens, regardless of religious beliefs, are considered brothers and sisters worthy of saving at any cost.

Reviewed by Pamela Kramer on September 11, 2021

Defending Britta Stein
by Ronald H. Balson

  • Publication Date: September 7, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 125027480X
  • ISBN-13: 9781250274809