I so enjoyed the author’s first novel, The Dead of Winter, that I jotted his name on a paper and stuck it to my bulletin board to keep an eye on him. This second John Madden mystery/thriller took so long to appear that I had stopped looking–but I pounced the moment I saw it, and will look forward to finding the third as well.
I said “mystery/thriller” above, but it’s really a thriller. In a writers’ workshop years ago, I heard the distinction made that, in the thriller, you know who the villain is–you may even be in his point of view sometimes–and the key is stopping him. In a mystery, OTOH, you read to discover the villain, and he is usually introduced among the cast of characters at the very start.
This book starts as a mystery, but narrows down to a very intriguing and problematic suspect range. Suffice it to say, identifying the guy requires international cooperation between England and Germany, just prior to the Nazi takeover. Interesting political territory. It also introduces a young German policeman whom I’d like to read more about.
I admire the way that the author handles point of view to reveal his protagonist, who is naturally reticent, as well as building suspense: I really did not want to put this book down in the last quarter.
However, I’m a bit concerned about how the author is handling his historical setting. It has the potential to create useful tension between the reader and the work, because we know what is about to happen in Europe, and the characters don’t–but instead of allowing that tension to develop naturally, the author sometimes pushes too hard to be portentous. Also, he has a psychologist character who seems to be an FBI profiler in disguise, and decades before his time. I wasn’t sure that was necessary. I know this character appeared in the first book, but I don’t recall being as bothered by his information as I was this time around.
On the whole, however, this is a great read, riveting and psychologically engaging.