Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Review of Garden of Beasts by Jeffery Deaver (2004, Hodder)

1936, Paul Schumann is a German-American hitman in New York. He’s set up and captured and given a stark choice: work for a secret government plot and a handsome payoff or face the death penalty. The plot is to travel to Germany and kill Reinhard Ernst, who's in charge of rearmament, in the week leading up to the Olympics. Even before his boat has docked things start to go wrong. They quickly unravel when he reaches Berlin. It seems that he is expected and he quickly gets into scrapes by acting the plucky hero. He’s determined to fulfil his mission however now that he’s seen the Nazi regime up close.

Garden of Beasts is a kind of boy’s own adventure for adults as Paul Schumann – professional hitman, amateur boxer, and former soldier – tries to assassinate a senior Nazi in the week prior to the 1936 Olympics when Berlin is teeming with additional security. Not only does he have avoid the various Nazi security factions, but also a determined Kripo detective who has little time for the new regime. The story barrels along at quick pace, with plenty of spills, crosses and tension points, and with a bit of romance thrown in. However, it all feels staged and a bit clunky. The story just didn’t seem credible at any point, and scenes seem to exist to showcase aspects of Nazi rule and bits of Nazi trivia, or drop in real characters from the period, rather than simply being part of the story. And the ending felt flat and didn’t ring true. While Schumann had the potential to be an interesting character he felt a bit too much of a caricature, as did most of the other characters. The result was I struggled through the story, which was a pity as the premise and setting around the Berlin Olympics held much promise.

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