Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Review of The Nuremberg Enigma by Yves Bonavero (Lark & Frogmouth, 2016)

April 1945.  Russian troops are nearing the centre of Berlin.  As the Third Reich nears collapse its leaders start to plot their escape, including Adolf Hitler.  When the Russian’s reach the German leader’s bunker they discover two burnt bodies, one of which appears to be Hitler, with similar dental work but missing finger tips.  While the world is told Hitler is dead, there is some doubt as to whether this is the case.  At the same time, T-Force officer, Peter Birkett, is making his way from Brussels to Kiel, keeping up with or running ahead of frontline troops in order to secure valuable scientific sites and scientists.  His Russian counterparts are doing the same, including Elizaveta Terisova, a Volga German who has managed to survive Stalin’s purges.  They are particularly keen to track down refined Uranium for use in developing atomic bombs.  Both parties are converging on a coal field, each determined to secure the area’s assets for themselves not realising there’s a potentially greater prize hiding in one of the mine shafts.

I received a free copy of the book from its publicist in return for an honest review.  The Nuremberg Enigma takes two storylines – one an alternative history concerning the death of Hitler and the other a factional account of a T-Force officer – and merges them together.  Since I read a lot of fiction set between 1930 and 1960 and military history of the Second World War (including recently a book on T-Force) the story seemed an ideal fit for my reading tastes.  The story starts quite promisingly, with a nicely written opening section set in centre of Berlin in the dying days of the Second World War, setting up a scenario where Hitler potentially survives the final onslaught.  The story then shifts register and voice – swapping to first person - to follow the exploits of Peter Birkett, a young British officer in T-Force, a specialist group that seeks to move forward with the troops to secure scientific sites.  This is interspersed with a third-person telling of the similar exploits of a young Russian intelligence officer of German extract.  There’s an imbalance in the telling of the back stories of these two characters, with much greater description of Elizaveta’s personal history.  Personally, I think the telling would have worked better if the whole story had been told in the third person.  Moreover, the emotional register of the story is uneven with, for example, a key death barely registering on one of the central characters.  More problematic, however, is the believability of the alternative history of Hitler thread which, while nicely set up, lacked substance and credibility and often made little sense.  And the thread leads to one of the most ridiculous endings I’ve read in quite some time (which is difficult to discuss without giving spoilers).  Overall then, while the story is interesting and has plenty of action it is somewhat uneven in its telling and plot and ultimately wasn’t convincing. 

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