Monday, October 6, 2014

Garden of Beasts: Jeffery Deaver


Description from the author's website:
Paul Schumann, a German-American living in New York City in 1936, is a mobster hit man known equally for his brilliant tactics and for taking only “righteous” jobs. But when a hit goes wrong and Schumann is nabbed, he’s offered a stark choice: kill Reinhard Ernst, the man behind Hitler’s rearmament scheme, and walk free forever—or be sent to Sing-Sing and the electric chair.
The instant Paul sets foot in Berlin his mission becomes a deadly cat-and-mouse chase, with danger and betrayal lurking at every turn. For the next forty-eight hours, as the city prepares for the coming summer Olympics, Schumann stalks Ernst, while a dogged criminal police officer and the entire Third Reich security apparatus search frantically for the American.
I have only read one other book by Jeffery Deaver, The Bone Collector, which is the first book in the Lincoln Rhyme series. Deaver's books are primarily thrillers.  This book is a standalone historical thriller, set at the time prior to World War II that Germany was building toward rearmament. The author spent a lot of time researching the period. There are three pages at the end where Deaver explains who and what really happened as described in the book and how various details differed from real life. He also includes sources he used in the Acknowledgments section.

This is one of those books that is hard to describe without revealing some of the twists and turns that make it an enjoyable read. The situation is not as simple as it initially appears.

I liked the slow reveal of the primary characters, both their background and their motivations.  Some of the characters seemed too much like stereotypes, but I felt like at the end they had been fleshed out to be more realistic. The story shifts between Paul Schumann, the hit man who is coerced into working for US intelligence; Willie Kohl, the policeman who is investigating a murder in Berlin; Rheinhard Ernst, Schumann's target; and other minor characters.

My favorite character is Willie Kohl. He is a Kripo inspector not associated with the SS or the Gestapo. Most of the resources of his department have been taken over by the other groups, but he has learned to work around that when necessary. It is hard doing a good job investigating crimes in the environment he is working in, but he carries on.

In an interview at his site, Deaver picks Otto Webber as his favorite character.
He’s a small-time crime boss and operator in Berlin. He’s funny, lives life to the fullest and forms an improbable friendship with Paul.
Paul plans to take his landlady out for dinner. She has lost her job as a teacher for saying the wrong thing in the classroom, and her circumstances are drastically reduced.  This describes her transformation:
Thirty minutes later, a knock on the door. When he opened it he blinked. She was an entirely different person.
Käthe was wearing a black dress that would have satisfied even fashion goddess Marion in Manhattan. Close fitting, made from a shimmery material, a daring slit up the side and tiny sleeves that barely covered her shoulders. The garment smelled faintly of mothballs. She seemed slightly ill at ease, embarrassed almost to be wearing such a stylish gown, as if all she’d worn recently were housedresses. But her eyes shone and he had the same thought as earlier: how a subdued beauty and passion radiated from within her, wholly negating the matte skin and the bony knuckles and pale complexion, the furrowed brow.
I liked the book a lot and would recommend it to those who like thrillers set in this period, and who don't mind the length. I did have a few minor quibbles. There was a love interest that seemed to be thrown in unnecessarily, but in the end that part of the story did fit in OK. Although the story kept me interested and entertained the entire time, there are big twists around page 400 (in a book of 536 pages). Twists are good, and I really liked that the author had me fooled, but up until that point I felt like the book was not anything special. After more is revealed I was very impressed with the book.

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Publisher:   Pocket Books, 2005 (orig. pub. 2004)
Length:       536 pages
Format:       Paperback
Setting:       Berlin, Germany
Genre:        Historical mystery
Source:       I purchased my copy.

17 comments:

  1. Must admit, I do find the length and the seemignly endless re-starts and twists, which while clever do require a lot of absurd things to happen, a bit trying - I have only a read a few of his though and not this one - thanks TracyK.

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    1. Sergio, I always (well, almost always) find thrillers unrealistic to some degree, and it depends on how well the author pulls me into that world as to whether I can accept it. This time I liked it but definitely had some quibbles along the way.

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  2. I'll find out soon enough if I have this one, I think I probably do. I wasn't aware that he had written historical stuff TBH. Just read the one Rhyme book myself.

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    1. I have a couple more of the Rhyme books to try, Col. I have heard good things about them, but they are long also.

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  3. Tracy - Deaver really does have a lot of talent :-) - I'm glad you've reminded me of his work. I must put him on the list to do a spotlight.

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    1. Margot, he does write very well, just based on the little I have read. I do think he would be great for a spotlight post.

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  4. I haven't read anything by him, and am trying NOT to find new authors, so I'm going to resist this, though you do make it sound intriguing.

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    1. I do sympathize, Moira. In 2013, I went the whole year without buying any books by an author I had not read. It helped cut back on buying, but it was very hard with all the recommendations from bloggers.

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  5. Tracy, I have never read Jeffrey Deaver though I know the kind of books he writes. This historical fiction set in WWII is of interest to me as it also has SS and the Gestapo that I like reading about.

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    1. I think you would like this book, Prashant, and I would love to know what you think of Deaver's books, should you read any of them. I just got (at the book sale) a book by Aaron Elkins titled Turncoat, that is set in the 1960's I think, and has links to WWII and Nazis, but that is about all I know about it.

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    2. Tracy, thanks for the heads-up about the Elkins' novel.

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  6. Sounds good, Tracy. I do read Jeffrey Deaver, but for whatever reason, only the Lincoln Rhyme books. (In fact, I have the latest one waiting on my nightstand.) But this stand-alone intrigues me because I love books set in that period. I can't imagine why I'd never heard of it before - or maybe I did and I've just forgotten - happens a lot. I will definitely add it to my TBR list immediately.

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    1. I have got to read more of the Lincoln Rhyme books, Yvette. I think he writes very well.

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  7. TracyK: I enjoyed your review. My thoughts on the book are much different from yourself. I thought the premise stretched reality too far. I did not feel it was a part of real German life. In the end, I thought it was predictable. I love the Lincoln Rhyme books but not his other work.

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    1. Bill, my only complaint was that some of the people seemed like stereotypes. Most of the historical fiction that I have read set at this time did not seem that realistic to me, but I don't know enough about that time. I did not see the twists coming, so I liked that. I look forward to reading more Lincoln Rhyme books.

      Thanks for sharing your opinion. I did wonder what others thought of it. The reviews I read were very mixed.

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  8. Enjoyed your review, Tracy. I've only read one Jeffrey Deaver, it was a Rhyme book, the first one in the series I think, The Coffin Dancer and enjoyed it. I think Deaver is good at writing thrillers. As Bill says above, he tends to stretch reality. So, either you can suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride or don't. Honestly, I haven't felt the need to read him anymore. Thrillers are not a particular favorite of mine.

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    1. I know what you mean about thrillers, Keishon. I only enjoy them if I really like the writer's style. And mostly a quieter kind of book suits me better. I never have understood why spy fiction books are often lumped into thrillers, they are usually slower. Not necessarily realistic, though.

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