Saturday, November 24, 2012

Orders from Berlin

Orders from Berlin, by Simon Tolkien.

All that remained now was to watch the final act of the drama that he'd set in motion. Seaforth looked to the right and saw the dapper, rotund figure of Bertram Brive coming into view. There was a jauntiness in his step that made Seaforth think Bertram had got what he wanted down at the Probate Office. It was strange to watch him strutting up the road, blissfully ignorant of the fate that awaited him, moments away, inside his flat. He stopped in front of the building, took out his key, and opened the door. And two minutes later came back out in handcuffs.

Simon Tolkien is the grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien (yes, that Tolkien - of Lord of the Rings fame) but his writing couldn't be more different. This Tolkien writes "half Christie and half Grisham" thrillers (L.A. Times) rather than those stories set in magical lands, and although I enjoy historical novels, I couldn't really get into Order from Berlin, though I will admit that the book did lure me in the more I read of it.

Official synopsis, from amazon.com:
It’s September of 1940. France has fallen and London is being bombed day and night. Almost single-handedly Winston Churchill maintains the country’s morale. Britain’s fate hangs in the balance and the intelligence agencies on both sides of the Channel are desperate for anything that could give them the edge.

Albert Morrison, ex-chief of MI6, is pushed over the banister outside his London apartment. He falls to his death at the feet of his daughter, Ava, but it is too dark for her to see the attacker before he escapes. Two Scotland Yard detectives attend the crime scene: Inspector Quaid and his junior assistant, Detective Trave. Quaid is convinced that this is a simple open-and-shut case involving a family dispute. But Trave is not so sure. Following a mysterious note in the dead man’s pocket, Trave discovers that Morrison was visited by Alec Thorn, deputy head of MI6, on the day of his death. Could Thorn—who is clearly carrying a flame for Morrison's daughter—be involved in a plot to betray his country that Morrison tried to halt, and if so, can Trave stop it in time in this gripping and intelligent thriller?

Tolkien's other novels, which I have not read, include Detective Trave, and therefore Orders from Berlin is almost a prequel novel of sorts for Trave's fans. The novel begins in Germany, with "the Fuhrer" (Hitler) having a conversation with one of his trusted minions, and I was confused as to how that conversation tied in to the rest of the book until the novel began to weave all of the threads together. I do like novels set in past time periods, and I'm especially interested in those occurring during World War II; this book did a good job of making sure most of the main European characters were included, such as Hitler and Churchill.

Once the thriller/mystery part of the novel gets started, the pacing starts to pick up, and I enjoyed the novel more. I think that anyone who enjoys historical books combined with mysteries/thrillers might enjoy this, though I can't say that with certainty because I should have enjoyed it more, using that logic; the novel took me a while to get through.

Orders from Berlin will be in stores on December 11th. 3 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this novel to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

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