Crime Fiction Alphabet: F is for Fatherland

This week it’s the letter F in Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet. I’ve chosen Fatherland by Robert Harris.

It’s a fast-paced thriller set in Germany in 1964, but not the historical Germany of that date, because Hitler is approaching his 75th birthday, and Germany had won the Second World War ‘“ it’s historical fiction that never was ‘“ an alternative history. And yet many of the characters actually existed, their biographies are correct up to 1942 and Harris quotes from authentic documents in the book. The Berlin of the book is the Berlin that Albert Speer planned to build.

What is definite is that this is a murder mystery, beginning with the discovery of the naked body of an old man, lying half in the Havel, a lake on the outskirts of Berlin. The homicide investigator is Xavier March of the Kriminalpolizei (the Kripo) and the victim is Josef Buhler, one of the former leading members of the Nazi Party who had been instrumental in devising ‘˜the final solution’. As March digs deeper, despite being taken off the case by the Gestapo, he discovers  a larger conspiracy as more of the former leading Nazis are murdered.

March is in some ways a typical cop, disillusioned, sceptical and suspicious of authority. He’s also divorced and losing the respect of his son, with disastrous effects. He isn’t the only one investigating the deaths. Charlie Maguire, a female American journalist has her own reasons for wanting to uncover the murderer and together they travel to Zurich to inspect the private Swiss bank account of one of the victims.

It’s a complex book and leads March into a very dangerous situation as he discovers the truth. It’s a real page-turner, full of suspense and consequently I read it very quickly, eager to know what happened next and what lay behind the murders. The ending is suitably ambiguous – it’s not the sort of book where all the loose ends are neatly tied up. Neither is the alternative history element dominant, although I did find all the little details fascinating. For example Churchill and the Royal Family have gone to Canada and Joseph Kennedy is the US president. It is predominantly crime fiction, that makes you think about the nature of good and evil and about the ways in which society handles corruption.

May’s Reading & Crime Fiction Pick of the Month

I read a lot in May – well I read and listened, because three of the books were audiobooks, which was quite a novelty for me. In total I ‘read’ 11 books and 9 of them were crime fiction. So far I’ve only reviewed 4 of them.

This is what I read –  the links are to my posts on the books and * indicates crime fiction:

  1. Wycliffe and the Cycle of Death by W J Burley* 4/5
  2. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene 3/5
  3. Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie* 3.5/5
  4. The Redeemed by M R Hall* 4.5/5
  5. Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves* 4/5
  6. The Hanging in the Hotel by Simon Brett * (library audiobook) 2/5
  7. Fatherland by Robert Harris* 5/5
  8. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel 4/5
  9. The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle* 3/5 (library audiobook)
  10. The Coroner by M R Hall* (library book) 4/5
  11. Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder by Catriona McPherson* 3/5 (advanced reading copy)

I’m aiming to review the rest of the books, but for now here are notes on them.

Wycliffe and the Cycle of Death by W J Burley is set in Penzance in Cornwall. Matthew Glynn, a bookseller,is found bludgeoned and strangled, which sets Chief Superintendent Wycliffe a difficult mystery to solve. The answer lies in the past and in the Glynn family’s background. I enjoyed this book, which I read quickly, eager to know the outcome, but the ending was a let down.

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie. I always like Agatha Christie’s books and although I don’t think this is one her better books, it was a satisfying read. It’s a closed room type mystery. Who killed Louise, the wife of the celebrated archaeologist leading the Hassanieh dig? Only the people at the dig could have done it, but which one – they’re all under suspicion? Poirot doesn’t appear until quite late on in the book, but, of course, works it all out.

The Hanging in the Hotel by Simon Brett (audiobook). This is the fifth of the Fethering Mysteries, in which Jude and her friend Carole investigate the death of one of the guests at the local country house hotel, following the dinner attended by the all-male members of the Pillars of Sussex the night before. It looks like suicide but Jude thinks it can’t be. I got rather tired listening to this book as Jude and Carole endlessly (or so it seemed) went over and over the events and questioned the suspects.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel is the sequel to Wolf Hall. This book certainly deserves a post of its own. Here I’ll just comment that this chronicles the fall of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife and Cromwell’s part in satisfying Henry’s wishes. I don’t think it’s quite as captivating as Wolf Hall, but it does show just how devious Cromwell could be.

My Crime Fiction Book of the Month is a close call between  Fatherland by Robert Harris  and The Redeemed by MR Hall, both of which had me engrossed.

Fatherland is a fast paced thriller, set in a fictional Germany in 1964, a Germany that had been victorious in the Second World War. It begins with the discovery of the body of one of the former leading members of the Nazi party, who had been instrumental in devising ‘the final solution’. It’s a complex book and leads police detective Xavier March into a very dangerous situation as he discovers the truth.

The Redeemed by MR Hall is by contrast not about a police investigation but is the third book in which Jenny Cooper, a coroner investigates the death of a man discovered in a church yard, the sign of the cross carved into his abdomen. At first it looks like a horrific suicide, but as Jenny delves deeper during her inquest she finds links to yet more deaths. This is the third book in M R Hall’s Jenny Cooper series and I enjoyed it so much that I immediately borrowed the first book, The Coroner, from the library. They do stand well on their own but I think it helps to read them in sequence. In The Coroner Jenny begins her career, having been a solicitor for fifteen years. She obviously has devastating events in her personal life that she has to deal with.

May’s reading has been exclusively fiction, so I’m looking forward to reading some nonfiction in June. I’m feeling like reading a biography or two.

See the round-up post at Mysteries in Paradise for other bloggers’ choices of book of the month for May ‘“ and add your favourite May read to the collection.