Friday, February 24, 2017

Review of Flight from Berlin by David John (Bourbon Street Books, 2012)

Eleanor Emerson is an Olympic athlete and socialite. On the ship from New York to Hamburg for the 1936 Olympics she refuses to tow-the-line of the team rules concerning on-board behaviour, straying up to first-class to party. The penalty is to be kicked-off the team. Instead of returning home she accepts a position of a celebrity columnist to report the games. Richard Denham is a British journalist who has been living in Germany for some time. He’s well aware that the games are being used for propaganda by the Nazi regime and he’s determined to expose the dark heart of the enterprise. Emerson and Denham meet at a garden party and form an uneasy alliance. Denham is being unwittingly drawn into a deadly game of espionage, with anti-Nazi resistors seeking to pass on a highly secret and potentially explosive dossier. Denham and Emerson are more interested in trying to uncover the story of the only 'non-Aryan' competitor in the German team, a fencer who is competing only because her family are being held hostage. As the games progress they come to realise that the Nazi machine is prepared to break its careful choreography to silence their activities. The question is whether they can flee Berlin intact and while exposing the Nazi lies and brutality.

Flight from Berlin is set around the 1936 Olympics and follows the escapade of American athlete and socialite, Eleanor Emerson, and British journalist, Richard Denham, as they tangle with the Nazi regime. Emerson is loosely based on Eleanor Holm, the US swimmer who was thrown off the US team for partying on the journey to the games. Another central character, Hannah Liebermann, is based on Helene Mayer, who was the only ‘non-Aryan’ to compete for Germany. Numerous other real-life characters populate the story, as do some real-world events, along with a couple of rumours surrounding Hitler’s medical notes from the First World War. John weaves a fictional narrative around these centring on a plot to discredit Hitler and the Nazi regime and to undermine the propaganda surrounding the games. The characters of Emerson and Denham are well-penned and for much of the story the plot is engaging and intriguing. In fact, I was thoroughly hooked up to the initial flight from Berlin. At that point, the story becomes increasingly ridiculous, progressing through an endless succession of clunky and unbelievable plot devices designed to create a series of dramatic moments leading to a climatic denouement. This was a real shame as it was all going so well before it spiralled into a series of staged chases. Overall, an interesting story with strong characters that became more-and-more implausible.

1 comment:

Mathew Paust said...

I hate when a good story goes bad!