Harris excels in close-focus scenes of history being written — or rather, scrawled, ripped up and redrafted — in a blur of small-hours wrangles, whispered rumours, midnight phone calls, sleepless vigils and cross-town dashes, amid a tobacco fug of fear, panic and confusion … We know what took place at Munich — Harris sticks close to the facts, cleverly inserting his fictitious backroom duo into the corners and corridors of power — and we know its outcomes...Defying hindsight, Harris generates a galloping sense of excitement and doom as the betrayal of the Czechs — their delegates forbidden even to witness their nation’s dismemberment — emerges as the price tag for Europe’s stay of execution … With moral subtlety as well as storytelling skill, Harris makes us regret the better past that never happened — while mournfully accepting the bitter one that did.
...highly entertaining … Like many an excursion in Harris-land, its plot runs in parallel, with two interconnected lives busily at work on either side of the channel eventually meeting in a single point … If any of the ingredients of a successful historical thriller have gone missing in Munich, then I failed to spot their absence. To particularize, Mr. Harris’s re-arrangement of the pre-World War II chessboard has drama; it has determinism; it has celebrity walk-ons and it has period doppelgängers.
Robert Harris has parachuted one of his trusty old-school protagonists through the interstices of historical events, sticking tight to the record but suggesting how things might have turned out differently … The first hundred or so pages of Munich are full of tight little huddles, grave-faced men darting in and out of offices. At times the documentarist in Harris seems to be rather crowding out the novelist, hugging the shore of verifiable fact instead of boldly striking out on the choppier waters of fiction … the book turns up the volume as the dual plotlines converge … A tantalising addition to the inexhaustible game of ‘what if?,’ Munich is one of Robert Harris’s more contained performances.
...another thrilling historical novel from Robert Harris … against the intriguing backdrop of political machinations and brinkmanship is a thriller plot bursting to get out – though it doesn’t properly kick in until halfway through … Harris is brilliant at depicting their world; prewar London, with its anti-aircraft guns, barrage balloons and searchlight batteries, is vivid, cinematic. Munich, too, is horrifyingly imperial, huge swastika banners on every building. Most impressively, Harris rarely falls for lazily foreshadowing what is to come for the world; he concentrates on Munich in 1938, and its seismic convergence of corrupt and naive power.
His new novel offers a painful look at an honorable man, longing for peace, but confronting an adversary who had only conquest in mind and only contempt for Chamberlain’s good intentions … Although his story is based on fact, Harris uses two fictional characters to achieve his novelistic ends … Some critics still call Chamberlain an appeaser, but Harris underscores the importance of the time he bought when he quotes Hitler saying bitterly in February 1945, when Germany’s defeat was near, ‘We ought to have gone to war in 1938.’ Once again, Harris has brought history to life with exceptional skill.
The unexpected scene-stealer of Munich is exactly the right person: Chamberlain himself, with his bushy grey eyebrows and his ‘hawk's-beak nose tilted up in defiance.’ The Chamberlain Harris gives his readers is not the vain, weak bogeyman of appeasement who can be found in most novels and histories of the period but rather a convincingly complex and driven patriot trying to navigate between unthinkable alternatives … Robert Harris gives the events their best fictional treatment yet.
...[a] meticulously researched and expertly paced thriller ... Harris steeps his tale in vivid descriptions of Europe on the brink of conflict. Londoners dig slit trenches in Green Park, fit their children with gas masks and raise barrage balloons to protect against aerial attac ... Like his breakthrough novel, Fatherland, set in a Nazified Germany 20 years after the Third Reich defeated the Allies in World War II, Harris’s new novel initially seems headed into the realm of fantasy. But it quickly becomes clear that Harris isn’t out to create an alternate history. Munich sticks close to the facts — even as it holds out the tantalizing hope of a different outcome.
A suspense thriller within a historical drama, Munich is one of Harris’s leanest and most dexterous novels. It is also a welcome return to the historical period that inspired, most memorably, the outstanding Fatherland (1992) ... Harris creates in a narrative that is, from the outset, both airtight and charged with menace; a menace heard before it is seen ... Hartmann is the conscience of Munich and Legat its innocent heart, but Harris is too subtle a portraitist to draw them, or the history they embody, in bold colors. Here the past bleeds into the present and those maimed by the last war will soon face the next.
...a crackling and intelligent thriller ... This is irresistible material for historical fiction, yet Harris cleverly raises the narrative stakes (and our blood pressure) by telling the tale through the eyes of two young men ... History tells us the terrible outcome of the Munich Agreement, but Harris keeps us guessing about the fate of our two young friends. Munich, an artful blend of truth and imagination, would make one heck of a movie or TV series.
The book is not the sort of 'alternate history' that Harris created in Fatherland, which envisioned a world under a victorious Hitler. Rather, Munich is an interpretive history whose author imagines what drove the minds of those who came to the table. Call it fictional history ... Harris creates a Chamberlain stronger, more nuanced and more sympathetic than he appears in most other accounts ... To his interpretive chronicle of Chamberlain’s exploits, Harris affixes, not too tightly, a fictional subplot about two characters ... The characters are not richly drawn, but they do bring color and a human dimension to the plot. Through the mens’ eyes, Harris evokes sobering images of life in Britain and Germany as war looms ... However diffuse, Munich will unsettle the reader with a chilling contemporaneity.
Munich, his latest work, for a time seems to be premised in an alternative history of its own, one in which the war is stopped before it even gets started ... The book — grounded in real history, with real-life figures as major characters, but otherwise fiction — is set in the days leading up to the September 1938 Munich Agreement ...in large part, is Harris’ attempt to empathize with Chamberlain; the author depicts him as an honorable man and a canny statesman, though his options are limited by the cards he has to play ... The book alternates its point of view from chapter to chapter, flipping between (fictional) lower-level figures on both sides of the negotiations ... The characters are perpetually exhausted, hungry, hungover, or annoyed by the weather, and these details carry an unusual amount of credibility and interest.
Robert Harris’ sympathetic description of Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who negotiated it, not only emphasizes that the agreement bought was vital because it gave Britain time to rearm, but also that Chamberlain was not the weak or misguided leader so often portrayed, but a shrewd operator: the equal of Hitler in his stubborn determination to get his own way ... With the exception of the nuanced characterization of Chamberlain, both are largely lacking in Munich — perhaps inevitably so given that the history of the agreement and those involved in its drafting have been widely explored ... Those with a special interest in this period will appreciate the merits of Robert Harris’ novel: its careful tracing of events, and the exposition of the thinking and motives of some of the German and British participants.
Legat and Hartmann move among real historical characters, and Harris skillfully interpolates them into vivid and accurate settings and situations. In particular the portrayal of Chamberlain, often reviled as the man who brought ‘peace in our time’ while Hitler’s forges roared, is humane and sympathetic—and the sly suggestion that he may have known full well what he was doing brightens an ending that is, after all, predetermined. Engaging, informative, and quietly suspenseful.