Paul Schumann, a notorious hit man for the New York Mafia, has finally been nabbed. But the feds have offered him a choice - accept a dangerous undercover government assignment in pre-war Germany or never see the outside of a prison again! The job is to assassinate Reinhard Ernst, the Nazi genius responsible for Hitler's re-armament program who is systematically defying the terms of Germany's WW I surrender, engineering a key component of Hitler's incendiary rise to power and providing him with the matches to light the fuse to WW II.
But when the operation fails, Schumann finds himself in the sights of Willi Kohl, Berlin's best homicide detective; a police operative who Schumann is dismayed to discover is far smarter and far more efficient than any of his North American opposite numbers.
"Garden of Beasts" is a fascinating historical thriller that is part psychological and part suspense with significant servings of provocative discussion about the meaning of good and evil. The historical context of the story is impeccably detailed and absolutely fascinating - the sights, sounds and geography of pre-war Berlin; brownshirts; the social milieu and attitudes of everyday German folks living with the combination of hope, fear, patriotism, terror and awe that Hitler must have inspired as he consolidated his dictatorial grip on the Germans; Jesse Owens humbling performance in the 1936 Olympics; and much more.
Is Paul Schumann a hero, an anti-hero or just plain villain? Deaver kindly leaves it to his readers to make their own decision. I'm sure you'll enjoy the trip as well as the ultimate destination.
While I may be reading much more into it than Deaver intended, I thought I'd give him kudos for what I think is an exceptionally clever title. "Garden of Beasts" could be said to be a loose translation of "Tiergarten" which is generally much more simply translated as "zoo". Much of the action in "Garden of Beasts" took place around Berlin's Tiergarten. For my money, I believe that Deaver was using the English translation to characterize the behaviour of his cast under the stress of war. See if you don't agree after you've read it.
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About the reviewer
Paul Weiss (cpw1952)
A modern day dilettante with widely varied eclectic interests. A dabbler in muchbut grandmaster of none - wilderness camping in all four seasons, hiking, canoeing, world travel,philately, … more
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