Papercuts1's Reviews > Das Alphabethaus

Das Alphabethaus by Jussi Adler-Olsen
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's review
Feb 15, 2012

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Read from February 15 to 22, 2012

This is NOT one of the character-driven, intensely paced Carl Morck thrillers. DAS ALPHABETHAUS was written BEFORE that series, and it is a completely different kind of book. A book that deals with the atrocities of war on a different, microscopic level, not at the front line, but in the living hell of a psych ward in Germany during the last year of the Second World War. The protagonists face an inhuman challenge: posing as severely traumatized, mentally broken German Nazi officers when they are, in truth, English bomber pilots. Their subjection to the horrifying, experimental treatments in the hospital feels like a never ending nightmare - not only to them, but also to the reader. Numbness and lethargy threaten to settle in. That part of the book feels lengthy and takes a lot of willpower to bear and hang on. Not sure in how far that feeling was intended by Adler-Olsen.

The second part, playing out decades later, once again in Germany, is the tighter packed, faster part of the book (although not necessarily the better one). The tension increases, the suspense returns, and several more or less unexpected reveals keep the reader glued to the pages. Not everything feels consistent or logical as events unfold. I had particular difficulties with the 'heroes' of the story who weren't all that relatable or even likable. But in the final 100 pages of ALPHABETHAUS Jussi Adler-Olsen brings his unflourished, direct, merciless writing style to bear. Old horrors resurface, and the 'villains' of this story are so utterly evil and deeply corrupted, their sheer appearance generates goose flesh.

The book ends on a surprising note, taking the dramatic finale away from the physical aspects of the fight against evil and back to the question of guilt, on a very personal level, and from an unawaited angle.

An uncomfortable book that feels a bit too long in places, yet its dramatic conclusion and important topic make it a recommendable read. Not the best Adler-Olsen has written, but a haunting story of war and fear and redemption.
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