The Alphabet House by Jussi Adler-Olsen
This book seems to have slipped in under the radar – but not for long I suspect. I don’t often read “thrillers” though I enjoy books by Ian Fleming, and used to read John LeCarre and the like. I find the newer books in this genre too detailed in their description of the intrigue involved in the story, and often too violent for my tastes. But - The Alphabet House by Jussi Adler-Olsen, an author best known for his popular mystery series, sounded so interesting that I decided to try it – and it is a completely fascinating book.
I did wish I had not read the introduction as it gives away some of what is to come, but it does prompt the reader to think, whilereading, about the reality behind the fiction. Two men, James Teasdale and Bryan Young, friends since their daredevil childhoods, are now aircrew flying over Germany during the Second World War. James the pilot, and Bryan the photographer and gunner. They have been ordered to leave the group of planes bombing Dresden, and take photographs of an area nearby. Shot down, they survive the crash and make a fateful decision in an attempt to evade capture.
They find themselves on a train among a group of Nazi SS officers being transported to hospital. Taking on the identities of two dead officers they end up in a sanatorium deep inside Germany at the mercy of their wits and good luck – or bad.
Their time in the sanatorium is spent attempting to avoid taking the medication that weakens their senses, as they continue to behave as though they are so traumatized that they cannot speak or understand the world around them. In this way they will be considered in need of treatment and not well enough to be sent back to active duty. Imagine this - exactly what Jussi Adler-Olson has done - and think about how this is possible – or not – and the consequences for these men if they fail.
The second half of the book moves closer to the present time. There is no way not give away some of the story in order to continue. We learn that one of the men did survive the war. He became a very successful businessman, and married a woman who knows nothing about the details of his wartime experiences.
In 1972 he is invited to attend the Olympics in Munich, taking this opportunity to attempt, one last time, to discover the fate of his friend. The present day story becomes the stuff of a very superior thriller. It is occasionally a little too violent for my tastes – but the characters are all men who were trained to kill and they all have a lot to lose if their wartime experiences are revealed even so many years later.
This is a book I immediately passed on to my husband – really more his kind of reading than mine. If you know a guy who reads Alan Furst or Philip Kerr and the like, this is a book I am sure they will really enjoy. And you might too.