This is a beautifully written book about a terrible time in history, the occupation of Paris by the Germans during WWII. The Gestapo search for Jews, especially wealthy ones, to take their homes and possessions after they torture and kill them. Anyone caught harboring a Jew will receive the same fate. The streets are constantly patrolled, food is scarce, and everyone lives in fear. Still, there are Frenchmen willing to risk their lives to save Jewish people. Auguste Monet is one of them. He is a wealthy industrialist who engages the talents of Lucien Bernard, an architect, to design a hiding place within an apartment that will cleverly conceal its inhabitants should there be a search. Lucien is desperate for money as he has no commissions but at first declines. When he learns that a chance to design a factory will follow if he agrees to the hiding place, he reluctantly goes along. Thus begins a successful collaboration and a great deal of money in Bernard's pocket. The author is also an architect. He describes the design process as it relates to the story but does not overdo it as some experts do when writing about their area of expertise.
As Lucien begins to accept more commissions from Monet, he begins to enjoy outwitting the Germans, although he must interact with them in the building of the factories he is asked to design. Lucien's wife leaves him as she cannot adjust to his new endeavors and fears for their lives.
When one of the hiding places is discovered, albeit after the inhabitants had escaped, the Gestapo begins a search for the clever architect who designed it. Lucien begins a "cat and mouse" game, takes in a Jewish boy who is passing as a Catholic, and enters into a romantic relationship with a French woman who is also hiding two children.
The beauty of Paris and the description of palatial homes is set against the fear and dread everyone feels with the oppression presented by the German occupation. As the story unfolds, Lucien must outwit the Germans and keep himself safe until he can flee the country.
The book ends realistically and shows that not all Germans were happy with what they were doing.