Englishman John Russell is a member of the foreign press corps in Berlin and a first-hand witness to the brutal machinations of Hitler and the Nazi party in the build-up to war during the early months of 1939. Unlike many of his colleagues, Russell wishes to remain in Berlin for as long as possible to be close to Effi, his glamorous actress girlfriend, and above all to Paul, his eleven-year-old son who lives with his estranged German wife. When an old acquaintance turns up at his lodging house, Russell's life begins to change. Gradually he is persuaded by a combination of threats, financial need and appeals to his conscience to become a spy first for the Soviet Union and then, simultaneously, for the British. The grimness, the constant fear and the skin-deep glitter of pre-war Berlin alleviated by atmospheric excursions to Prague, Danzig, London and the Baltic seashore form a rich backdrop as Russell, a reluctant hero and saviour for some, treads along ever narrowing lines between the Russians, the British and the Gestapo.