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Monday, December 28, 2015

Review: Garden of Beasts, A Novel of Berlin, 1936 by Jeffrey Deaver

Paul Schumann is a mob hit man. He’s set up by the Feds and captured then offered a choice between working for them to assassinate a key Nazi official, Reinhold Ernst, or face the gas chamber. Sent to Germany under the cover of a journalist following the Olympics in Berlin, he’s soon involved in a serious cat-and-mouse game for a Nazi sympathizer has sent an anonymous note to the German High Command indicating that a “Russian” (Paul is supposed to use a forged Russian passport to escape following the assassination) will cause some damage to some unnamed important official.

Paul has been chosen because he speaks almost native German and is a very careful, precise hitman. But he doesn’t have the cultural background of Nazi Germany in 1936 and little things, like whistling for a taxi, which no German would have done, provide clues for his pursuers. Deaver must have done considerable research to provide details like the “Hitler clothing” that help provide a good sense of time and place.) For example: Morgan said softly, “Don’t use that word here. It will give you away. ‘Nazi’ is Bavarian slang for ‘simpleton.’ The proper abbreviation is ‘Nazo,’ but you don’t hear that much either. Say ‘National Socialist.’ Some people use the initials, NSDAP. Or you can refer to the ‘Party.’ And say it reverently. . . .

After Paul and his contact are forced to kill an SA agent, Inspector Kohl (a brilliant cop who expertly maneuvers his way across the conflicting SD, Gestapo, SA, and SS interference which threaten to muck up his investigation) enters the case and now Paul is being sought by multiple agencies sometimes working at cross-purposes. And can Paul trust his American handlers? Great plot, well executed.

Everything in the novel rings true except the conversations between Ernst, Himmler, Hitler, and Goering. A couple other minor things that bugged me. We’re all used to the phrases “Heil, Hitler,” and “Grüß Gott”, but here both are translated quite literally so they come out “Hail Hitler” and “Greeting God” which, ironically, rang very false to my ear. Better to have left them in their German form. But I quibble. Very engaging story.
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