Friday, 15 June 2012

Fatherland by Robert Harris

I've previously read a couple of Robert Harris novels so I knew he was capable of claiming my attention within the first few pages and he didn't disappoint with Fatherland.

It's not a new book, far from it. It's 20 years since it was first published but it's one of those that I've always meant to get round to it but never quite made it. Until last week.

The novel provides an alternative version of history so when we first encounter our hero, Xavier March, a police detective with the honorary rank of Sturnbannfuher in the SS, in the spring of 1964 we are also introduced to a very different Europe.

 March is called in to investigate the death of a high ranking Nazi. He starts to suspect that all is not quite as it seems as he uncovers anomalies  - and more bodies. March has opened the proverbial can of worms and is soon butting heads with the thuggish Odilo Globocnik, otherwise known as Globus, a particularly unpleasant SS functionary. Early on March meets Charlotte (Charlie) Maguire an American reporter, living in Berlin on assignment, who turns out to be a great help to him - and more!

Underlying the story is the upcoming visit of the American President on what would be the first visit to the German Reich since the cessation of the war back in 1946. Since that time the US and the Reich have been in locked in a state of cold war and the visit, ostensibly to pay respects to Hitler on his 75th birthday, is seen as the start of a thaw in relations between the two super powers.

The information that March uncovers, in the vast storehouses of paperwork that Nazi clerks have so efficiently saved and filed away, threatens not only the Presidential visit but could be used by the anti-Nazi US press to stir up public opinion. The fall-out would ensure that any future collaboration between the two countries would be stymied. The Nazi hierarchy are on high alert and determined not to let that happen!

This is a great thriller, well written and believable. From initially not caring that much about March, well who would - he's a member of the SS - I soon changed to cheering him along. I did, however, find Charlie a somewhat annoying character but then her presence does allow Harris to create a twist or two which move the plot on. All the other main characters I found to be believable. In particular Harris creates a very chilling picture of Globus who got my knees knocking every time he made an appearance. Along the way Harris throws in little snippets of information on world figures we would expect to encounter at that time and as a consequence of Germany winning the war. Occasionally I found myself pulled up with a start when I encountered them - but I won't give anything away here!

I will definitely carry on reading more books by this author.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

June's big reads (for me anyway!)

I started the month of really well finishing the second book in the James Forrester Trilogy about the adventures of William Harley Clarenceux King Of Arms to Queen Elizabeth I - The Roots Of Betrayal. I absolutely adored the first book, Sacred Treason, but was slightly trepidatious about reading this follow up. Would it be as enjoyable as the first, would Forrester be able to re-capture the quick as lightening pace, the exciting who-did-it-and-where'd-he-go theme of the Sacred Treason?

Well in a word - yes. Although the novel got off to a slower start, for me at least, as I didn't engage with the story until I was the first couple of chapters or so into the book when I suddenly found myself gripped.

Forrester is clever enough to paint the sort of word pictures that make you feel that you are watching the action rather than merely reading about it. The sea battle was a stand-out. I could smell the gunpowder and the fear of the men - and women -  as they fought off the enemy. I could hear the sound of the ships' planking tearing apart and splintering as a cannonball rammed through.

My one slight let-down is that once again, as he does in Sacred Treason, Forrester brings the story  to a somewhat abrupt end. It was as though he had only a page or two left of a finite limit and he had to pull it together quickly. It was all a bit too neat and tidy - but not enough to spoil an otherwise excellent adventure of derring-do.

I look forward to the publication of the third book in the series, The Final Sacrament, later this year.