Garden of Beasts : A Novel of Berlin 1936

by Jeffery Deaver
ISBN: 0743437829

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A Review of: Garden of Beasts: A Novel of Berlin 1936
by Desmond McNally

Jeffery Deaver has chosen a time and place for his latest novel that offers innumerable opportunities to immerse his readers in a setting that history confirms was rife with Anti-Semitism, cruelty, hatred, intrigue and the barbaric treatment of fellow human beings.
This novel of Berlin in 1936, the time of Hitler's Olympics, provides the background for an unusual premise in Garden of Beasts, the literal translation of Tiergarten. Deaver, a prolific and successful author of many well-regarded novels, hits his stride quickly, introducing us to his protagonist, a German American called Paul Schumann. An unlikely hero, Schumann is employed by mob members to execute, or "touch-off" recalcitrant gang members in New York City.
Captured at the site of one such settling of accounts, Schumann is surprised to find out that his captors are in fact renegade members of a U.S. Government agency. He is offered a pardon and a substantial amount of money in exchange for putting his talents at their disposal in order to "touch-off" a senior Nazi officer responsible for Germany's clandestine rearmament.
For cover, Schumann sails to Germany under the guise of a sports writer, in the company of the U.S. Olympic team. On arrival, he spends two frenetic days in Berlin trying to fulfill his contract.
Aided and abetted by Otto Webber, a loveable old rogue involved in theft and the black market, Schumann gets ever closer to his goal. However, his trail is followed by Willi Kohl, a Berlin police inspector, whose tenacity complicates matters greatly.
Although I found this offering enjoyable, I felt that Deaver wasn't entirely successful in capturing the Berlin of 1936. I did not experience the undercurrent of evil in Germany of that time, the intense nationalism, the tensions and paranoia, the hatred of Jews, or left-wing intellectuals. Nor did I get a sense of the tawdry nightlife that Berlin was famous for.
In addition, Inspector Kohl's successes in pursuing Schumann seemed to be the result of convenient coincidences rather than clever sleuthing. And though Schumann is described variously as "savvy", "clever" and even "brilliant", he walked the streets of Berlin carrying photographs of his intended victim, a gun, and smoking Chesterfield cigarettes in various locales-not what one would call "careful"!
Having vented these reservations, I do want to say that Deaver has created a wonderful character in Otto Webber. Webber is a refreshing, interesting and likable type-despite being a petty criminal. Also, the imaginative conclusion involving horrific experiments on human beings, and the surprising outcome, shaping our hero's future, will leave Deaver fans amply satisfied.

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