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Friday, 24 June 2022

GARDEN OF BEASTS - Book review



Jeffery Deaver’s standalone book – ‘A novel of Berlin 1936’ - was published in 2004 and it’s an interesting departure from his normal suspense psychological thrillers.

Paul Schumann is a mobster hitman who only kills those who deserve to die. ‘Committing an evil act to eliminate a greater evil’ (p93). Unfortunately his latest hit goes wrong and he is caught and given a choice: he can go to Berlin and kill Ernst, one of Hitler’s top men responsible for rearmament, or opt for the electric chair. A no-brainer.

Once in Berlin, however, things go awry and he is being hunted by a dogged Berlin Kripo detective Kohl. The depth of detail for the period is very impressive and never swamps the story.

Paul learns a great deal about the new Germany under Hitler who took power a mere three years earlier.  The SS ‘were originally Hitler’s guard detail. Now they’re another private army. The Gestapo is the secret police force, plainclothes. They’re small in number but very dangerous. Their jurisdiction is political crimes mostly. But in Germany now anything can be a political crime. You spit on the sidewalk, it’s an offense to the honor of the Leader so off you go to prison or a concentration camp.’ (p79)

Interior Minister Göring ‘ordered every policeman to carry a weapon to use them liberally. He’d
actually issued an edict saying that a policeman should be reprimanded for failing to shoot a suspect, but not for shooting someone who turned out to be innocent.’ (p84)

Kohl and his fellow policemen found it difficult to do their jobs particularly when interviewing potential witnesses: ‘since Hitler had come to power blindness had become the national malady…’ (p89)

Paul befriends his landlady Käthe and she tells him about her boyfriend who was brutally murdered by National Socialists in front of her near the lake in the Tiergarten, the Garden of Beasts. Just one more piece of evidence against the evil regime.

Deaver creates characters you sympathise with and believe in and fear for their safety in the treacherous state of the Third Reich. The claustrophobic environment, where children will betray parents to the authorities, where jobs, livelihoods and even lives could be forfeit if you don’t acquiesce, where freedom of speech is trampled upon: it must have been terrible to live there then. (Imagine how bad it could have been with the social media trolls and cancel brigade!)

A riveting page-turning thriller with a couple of neat twists – Deaver’s hallmark – and a satisfying resolution.


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