Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Review of The Elegant Lie by Sam Eastland (2019, Faber and Faber)

1949. Nathan Carter, a disgraced American soldier is released from prison after nine months for stealing supplies to sell on the black market. He makes his way into the city of Cologne where he’s approached by the right-hand man of Hanno Dasch, king of illegal supplies. Dasch wants Carter to help him with his work, in particular to help expand his enterprise internationally. Carter, however, has his own agenda with respect to Dasch’s operations, and it soon becomes clear that another group are also using Dasch for their own ends. The promise of wiping his criminal record clean keeps Carter in the game, but it’s clear he’s going to need his wits to survive.

The Elegant Lie follows the fortunes of disgraced American officer, Nathan Carter, as he goes uncover in post-war Cologne to tackle a black market racketeer. While the premise is interesting, the story is far too linear and aspects of it make little sense. For example, it is really not clear at all why Dasch needs Carter, or why he’d pick him up straight after release from prison. Dasch has operated perfectly well without Carter, who brings little to Dasch’s game, and either Carter would have been thoroughly checked out in advance, or he would have needed to inveigle his way in. Instead, joining Dasch’s operation simply lands in Carter’s lap. Moreover, it’s not clear why the authorities can’t move to shut Dasch down given what’s known about his activities, or why Carter has to travel to a crash site rather than local contacts. The story is full of such simple plot devices, which along with the lack of twists and turns, means the tale is thin and lacking credibility, intrigue and tension. Instead, the narrative is padded out with an extended history of Carter and his time as an undercover cop pre-war and his journey to prison which provides a lot of backstory that could have been snappier, rather spooled out for little gain. Moreover, the character development is somewhat anaemic and there is little sense of life in post-war German beyond some thin description. So, while the premise of the story offered much potential, its execution lacked the depth, complexity and characterisation of a Philip Kerr, David Downing or Luke McCallin tale.

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