Monday, November 10, 2014

Review of The Spring of Kasper Meier by Ben Fergusson (Little, Brown, 2014)

Kasper Meier has survived the war and now shares a small apartment with his elderly father in the ruined city of Berlin.  The economy is shattered, people struggling to get by on meagre rations, supplemented with scraps traded for on the black market with other locals and the occupying forces.  Meier spends his days horse-trading, swapping household goods and information for food and tobacco, working his various networks.  One day a young woman, Eva Hirsch, shows up at his apartment wanting Meier to find the whereabouts of a British pilot.  When Meier refuses, she resorts to blackmail.  Meier has his own way of dealing with blackmailers but as he tries to short-circuit Eva’s scheme he comes to realise that he’s caught up in something more sinister, as is Eva -- allied soldiers are being murdered on a regular basis.  Feeling sympathy for Eva and wanting to extract himself from the threats and obligations being placed on him by Frau Beckmann, Eva’s landlady and rubble clearing leader, and her feral twin children, Meier tries to work out how to save himself, Eva and his father.

The strength of The Spring of Kasper Meier is the post-war desolate atmosphere of Berlin, the sense of place, and the details concerning how ordinary people seek to survive amongst the rubble on meagre rations.  Kasper Meier is interesting character, complex, brusque, tough, yet compassionate, who has long lived a secret life, managing to survive in Nazi Germany.  Eva is more open and friendly, a little naive, but with an edge hardened survivor mentality.  Their somewhat awkward relationship is nicely portrayed.  The plot, centring round find a British pilot and supposed revenge killings is an interesting idea, but its telling is not always convincing and often a little drawn out.  The plot hinges on a threat of blackmail that, for me at least, didn’t seem strong enough and the fear exerted by two omnipresent twelve year old twins that did not feel credible, regardless of how feral they’re portrayed.  And for someone who has managed to survive, specialises in sourcing information and trading on the black market, and possesses a gun and physical strength, Meier doesn’t always act in line with personality and circumstance.  The result was the story felt a little uneven and contrived at times.  Overall then, an engaging and atmospheric, but sometimes patchy, story of survival and struggle in the ruins of Berlin.


TracyK said...

Sounds interesting for the post-war Berlin setting. Very nice review.

Rob Kitchin said...

Thanks, Tracy. Just finished Potsdam Station by David Downing, set in 1945 in Berlin, and it's another evocative.