Lanny Budd is an agent for the American President.
He is so much more, though, because his adventures so richly describe the world of Europe and American during the incredibly violent and unsettling years from the First World War, through the pseudo-peace of the 20s and 30s, into and beyond the horrors of the Second World War, and into the beginning of the Cold War.
Born in 1900 to a rich son of an American munitions dealer named Robbie Budd and the daughter of an American Baptist minister, named Beauty. His father met his mother while she lived in Paris and their marriage was a tumultuous one due to the forbidding by Budd's grandfather of the union. Beauty had posed nude for several famous artists and the scandal was more than could be allowed. Such was the world Budd lived in - wealth and strictness on one side and a Bohemian free spirited art loving other side.
We first will meet Budd as he is 13 years old and the Continent was just a few months away from the assassination of the Austrian Archduke and WWI. We will follow him in very great detail as he lives through that conflict and grows to maturity shortly thereafter. His life in Europe will result in his being a native speaker of French and German with a good understanding of Italian and Spanish and, more importanly, it will give him a wide range of acquaintances who will come and go from his life many times over the next few decades, most good and some not so much.
The second novel details his life throughout his and the world's 20's as Budd travels all over Europe on business and for pleasure and being the extremely observant man that he became, he will see many instances of hatred by several countries for Germany and extreme resentment and bitterness on the part of the Germans, resulting in their rearming.
Half a decade is depicted in the third novel, the years of 1929-1934 being a terrible period for everyone throughout Europe, except tellingly those of the upper class who had either escaped the Crash of 29 or were so rich they survived it. More telling was the rise of the Nazi party and the early movements towards the Holocaust.
The fourth novel, taking place from '34 to '37, has Budd entering the upper strata of government leadership when, now in his early 30's his contacts with those in power in the U.K. and U.S. gives him a chance to expound on the evils and dangers he is seeing in the hate-filled speeches of Hitler and the suppression of rights in Germany. It is at this time that his experiences and insights would be a prime candidate to be asked for help by an American President. Since he had become known as an art lover, he would take the role of an art dealer with many wealthy contacts in the States eager to buy at a bargain basement old masterpieces. Many of these would be sold by families eager to get out while they could and many would be bought or sold or stolen by the Nazi leadership, including Hermann Goering.
In the fifth novel, which covers two years, '37 and '38, at the request of FDR and to help a friend, Lanny Budd is in Spain during the main period of that nation's civil war, and is able to report back to the White House the rise there of its own form of fascism under the control of Franco.
Budd is back in England and in Germany during the start of actual war between the two nations in the sixth novel taking place in '39 and '40. Budd is upset when his warnings to Neville Chamberlain go unheeded. He is also coming to the attention, not in a good way, of the Gestapo especially as he harbors a female fugitive from them and helps smuggle her out of harm's way.
'40-'42 solidifies Budd's position as an covert operative, giving considerable intelligence to both FDR and Churchill while still maintaining the role of a Nazi sympathizer to stay as close to German leadership as he can. He will taste the dangers of such a double life, though, when the French Resistance get hold of him. During this period as well, Budd will take a side trip to the Far East and will see for himself the expanse of Japanese control there.
During '42 and '43, Budd's operations will reach an even greater height as he is dispatched to Moscow on behalf of FDR and then back to Spain for yet another mission. Budd is, of course, by this time very much into middle age and is starting to show the weariness of what he has been through.
'43-'44 shows the end nearing for Germany and for Budd's undercover work, things are exceptionally busy. Many of Germany's upper leadership are making plans for fleeing and need the help of Budd's art dealing expertise, providing Budd with excellent inside information on who is planning what. It also puts him squarely in the vision and distrust of the head of the SS, Himmler. When the Allies land in Normandy on D-Day, Budd knows it is time to stop with the charade and join the real war.
The tenth novel sees the end of the war and a return to civilian life. It will also be a return to his role as Agent 103 when, after the passing of FDR, new President Truman wants his help learning what he can about Stalin's intentions with Eastern Europe, necessitating another trip to the Soviet Union.
In the final novel of this incredible saga, as Budd nears his 50th birthday, Budd comes to realize his hopes for peace are not going to happen as he watches the iron grip that Stalin has on so many countries.