I was very disappointed by this book. I love history and since I knew this author writes English mysteries, I thought I could look forward to a suspenI was very disappointed by this book. I love history and since I knew this author writes English mysteries, I thought I could look forward to a suspenseful story with good characters. But I found the characters so cliched -- the uptight Englishwoman, the faintly slutty but possessed of a heart of gold French model, the aristocratic Russian, and let's not forget the wealthy drawling American -- that I soon got bored. At first I thought the characters might develop and become three dimensional, but they never did, and sometimes they behaved in ways that were outright contradictory. For instance, the American woman at first seems to have more depth than appears -- she appreciates advanced painters like Cezanne, for instance, when nobody else does -- but then she turns into a typically high handed superficial rich woman. The villain tries to kill the heroine, but when she takes her revenge on him by stalking him, he wonders, why is she being so unfair, hadn't he paid her and fed her all those months?? Are we supposed to believe he is an idiot and doesn't think that a small thing like trying to murder someone might be a reason for vengeance? And so on. I read to the end, but only because I was curious as to how it would come out.
Since I love thrillers and mysteries, and I love history, I have always longed for a historical mystery that would give me a true sense of how thiWow!
Since I love thrillers and mysteries, and I love history, I have always longed for a historical mystery that would give me a true sense of how things were in Germany during the Nazi era. I've read several of the Philip Kerr series, and while they're entertaining, they're definitely comic books compared to this. In his books, you never really get a feeling of severe danger – Bernie Guenter turns everything away with a quip, even as he lies tied up on the train tracks with the train coming. In the case of this book, though, I was so saturated with the sense of daily terror people lived in under a Nazi dictatorship, I honestly didn't know whether the protagonists would survive. That's how real it felt.
Even though this isn't Nazi Germany 1939-1945, but a Nazi-fied England circa 1952, I got a real snapshot of what life would be like under those circumstances. Sansom was fantastic at creating the small, niggling, unending sense of dread that would sit in your gut day after day. The grayness, the smallness, the narrowness of fear experienced on an ongoing basis. And when the book goes into high gear in the last half, that was wonderfully rendered too. Though even then, Sansom is careful to show how life on the run must actually be like -- moments of throat closing danger, inter-sperced by long dragging periods of inaction where boredom fights with fear. Just like in real life.
Some readers – incomprehensibly for me – have spoken of wooden characters. I couldn't disagree more. Every single one of these people – including the really frightening villain – were rendered multi-dimensionality. That was why the villain was so effective, because he was a fully realized character and you couldn't blow him off as a cartoon. I also loved Frank Muncaster, the emotionally damaged scientist (abandoned by his mother and send to a Scottish boarding school where bullies almost killed him.) You understand why he is the way he is, but the real pleasure is seeing him grow and gain fortitude as the book moves forward. Another character I loved was Ben, the Scottish nurse/resistance agent who is tough, funny and profane, and turns out to have a surprising secret of his own. In a way, David Fitzgerald, the main character, didn't come to life quite so much, but he was still good and I think the portrayal of his wife, a pacifist whose views also evolve during the course of the book, was excellent.
The great thing is that these people aren't heroes. They are not cool, smooth, or fast-talking teflon people. They are ordinary individuals who are thrown into an untenable situation and do the best they can. The scene where there is an impromptu protest against the rounding up of the Jews was masterful. I won't say any more except that some of the things that happen take you completely by surprise but are so well rendered you feel it really could have happened that way.
In this Britain there are Resistance fighters who are prejudiced, a German who is a monster of fanaticism and yet genuinely loves his son and believes he is doing the right thing, every day people who turn out to be heroes, and every day people who are as deluded as the most deluded German under Hitler.
I was with it every step of the way and love that it was that long because I enjoyed being with these people and feeling the richness of their experience. I was not a great fan of the Shardlake series -- I prefer stand-alone books anyway, so it is a very unusual detective series that will get my nod – and was a little bored by "Winter In Madrid." So I wasn't expecting too much. This was a pleasurable surprise. ...more
A good, serviceable history of World War I. I've always stayed away from reading an entire history about this war because it's so depressing. The unenA good, serviceable history of World War I. I've always stayed away from reading an entire history about this war because it's so depressing. The unending doing-the-same-thing-and-expecting-a-different-outcome (Isn't that the definition of insanity?) of the first three years. But this got me through it without too much pain, and I can now feel I'm adequately literate on the topic....more
Quite amazing that I have actually read all five books of the Gatekeepers series, and I'm far from a teenager! But I've been a fan of Anthony HorowitzQuite amazing that I have actually read all five books of the Gatekeepers series, and I'm far from a teenager! But I've been a fan of Anthony Horowitz' since "Foyle's War" and the "Midsommer" series on TV -- also I loved "House of Silk." So I gave it a go, as the English would say, and was quite hooked. The series was much more than a bunch of adventures about five kids saving the world from evil. The evil was very specific and relatable, in that it sprang from elements that are in all of us. And the ending went way beyond "Good triumphs over evil." I won't say any more, but it was very satisfying in a way many adventure series are not. ...more