by Douglas Hill
The latest phase in W. Gunther Plant's long and admired career has led him to fiction. There was a collection of short stories, Ranging Threads, in 1981; The Letter is his first novel. Plaut now is in his mid 70s, but his writing shows no signs of waning energy or enthusiasm. His novel is a well-organized and tightly plotted historical thriller that pits faith and hope against the Nazi horror.
However - and this will be a somewhat hefty objection - The Letter is immediately and ultimately unsatisfying fiction. Despite the author's knowledge (much of it firsthand) of his subject and his commitment to it, the outline of the story is one that readers will feel they've seen before. The setting in Germany during the late 1930s and through the war, the big secret (a letter from Hitler to Wring setting out the scope of the Final Solution), the lovers and the families torn apart by evil laws and prejudices, the accessory cast of historical personages all of this is the stuff of pulp romance. And while much that happens in the book is interesting, it's all pretty predictable. Finally there's the writing itself, which is frequently muddy and too often tediously tautological. (It didn't help matters that my copy had several badly blurred pages, but that's hardly the author's fault.)
What may redeem the novel's flaws for sympathetic readers - and who would not be sympathetic? - is the sincerity and passion of Plant's Politics. However many times we have heard the facts he presents, we should listen attentively again and forever. I only wish Plant had found a vehicle for expressing his anger and anguish that was less fictionally static.