Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Garden of Beasts - a review of sorts
I'm not much of a book reviewer. I probably have three showing on Amazon.com. A friend has asked me to review an anthology, so I'm currently reading that one. But I just finished Jeffery Deaver's Garden of Beasts and thought I'd make some comments here.
It's a bit larger than most books I read, running 536 pages in mass market paperback. I really enjoyed the book but found it interesting that the publisher put "A master of ticking-bomb suspense." - People on the cover. While the book contained lots of suspense, it wasn't one of those page-turners you couldn't put down. In fact, it took me several weeks in my hit-and-miss reading style.
I suppose one reason the story appealed to me is that I'm a history buff. It deals with a short period before and during the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I like intrigue. This one involves a rogue American plot to assassinate a top Hitler aide responsible for preparing Germany's armed forces for a major war.
Deaver obviously did a mountain of research on pre-war Berlin and the Nazi hierarchy. I've never visited the German capital, but his descriptions of the neighborhoods and the people who inhabit them are so realistic you feel you've been there.
Hitler and his inner circle are depicted chillingly with all their little quirks, like Hitler's obsession with drinking hot chocolate. Obese Herman Goring, thin, clubfooted Paul Joseph Goebbels, and bespectacled Heinrich Himmler are portrayed as edgy schemers, always mindful of Hitler's volatile temper.
The American plot was hatched by a senator and a business magnate working with a small group in an Office of Naval Intellgience hideaway on New York's Upper East Side. The most intriguing part was the killer they chose, a "button man," or hitman for the Mafia. But Paul Shumann was a native German brought to New York as a boy, not a Sicilian mobster. He chose to eliminate the bad guys because of what they had done to his father.
The two most interesting characters, those who hold the point of view, are Paul and his nemesis, Berlin Kripo (criminal police) Detective-Inspector Willi Kohl. Deaver does a masterful job of plotting to keep the path of events inexorably pushing the two men together for the climax.
Unexpected twists and turns fill the book. I did not guess the ending (though I'm rarely that prescient). Did the assassination succeed? Was Paul captured? Did Kohl suffer the fate of Germans who did not share Hitler's hatred of the Jews?
Read Garden of Beasts and find out.
I suppose you could call it "ticking bomb" suspense, but it ticked rather slowly. One reason was the meticulous characterization used throughout to give everyone the feeling of reality. It was accomplished by careful use of thoughts and actions rather than overuse of details.
In an Author's Note at the end, Deaver tells what happened to some of the places mentioned in the book, and he details the fate of the Nazi bigwigs who carry much of the plot. Though it's a work of fiction, it makes you wonder what might have been the outcome if something similar had actually occurred.