About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Old Enemy by Henry Porter

(32. - 1104.) The Old Enemy by Henry Porter - A retired English spy, Robert Harland, goes down fighting upon a deserted beach in Estonia while painting the sea and sky. Ripples from his death soon reach London.

Another former British government spy, Paul Samson, now free lancing for private industry and individuals when not running his Lebanese restaurant, is warned that he might be the next target. 


In the United States Kurdish born businessman, Denis Hisami, has been hounded by the federal government. On his way into Congress to testify before a hostile committee he is handed newspapers which he hands to his lawyer. As he starts to testify Hisami and his lawyer collapse in paroxyms. The papers have been saturated with a nerve agent. The lawyer dies and Hisami is left critically ill.


In London assassination attempts are made upon Samson.


The common element between the attacked was an intelligence operation whose climax in Estonia saw two Russians killed.


Yet it does not appear a Russian operation.


The violence is the opposite of the average thriller. There are no clever efficient killers in The Old Enemy going after the good guys. Vicious disposable thugs from various European countries are hired. What conspiracy would use such amateurs? They gather attention and, even if disposed of, leave trails.


The beautiful Anastasia, Hisami’s wife and Samon’s former lover, and Naji, a brilliant Syrian refugee, are involved in a private intelligence operation being carried out by Harland and Hisami.


Individuals high within the governments of Britain and the United States have been recruited or blackmailed to betray their countries. The origin of the mastermind of this penetration, code named Berlin Blue, is in the Stasi of East Germany in the 1980’s.


The reasonably complex plot takes espionage into the high tech of the 21st Century gathering both vast and very particular information. At the same time individuals are targeted with the traditional means of exploitation.


I enjoyed the interaction of the characters and how an important section of the plot took place in Estonia, not often a destination for thrillers, but clearly a land of many spies as it adjoins Russia.


The climax is a remarkable resumption of the Congressional hearing at which Hisami had been stricken. All the main characters are present for a striking denouement..


As I reflected on the book I realized I would have preferred a reversal of roles. My favourite characters, though their presence was brief, were Harland and Hisami. It is probably because of my senior years that I would have preferred them to have been the protagonists with Samson killed and Anastasia poisoned. They would have been the aging warriors intent on avenging their proteges and uncovering the conspiracy. Their acknowledged brilliance and tenacity would have carried the book.


The Old Enemy is an excellent book.

****

Porter, Henry - (2003) - A Spy's Life; (2004) - Empire State (Tied for third Best fiction in 2004); (2004) – Remembrance Day; (2005) – Brandenburg; (2009) - The Dying Light; Hardcover


Friday, October 8, 2021

Considering "People" in The Madness of Crowds

In my first two posts on The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny I reviewed the book and discussed its exploration of reacting to evil. I consider the views of the character, Professor Abigail Robinson, supporting “mercy killing” of those who burden society such as the ailing aged or deformed unborn as wicked. How we consider “people” is another important theme of the book.

Some of the best books in the Armand Gamache series probed the depths of the minds of artists. The Madness of Crowds opens by examining the mind of a scientist of numbers, a statistician.


Robinson does not value individuals. It is society - “people” as a group - which is valued by her. The greater good requires sacrificcs.


By contrast, Gamache sees “people” as individuals. He sees persons not categories of worthy and unworthy members of society. 


Gamache looks into the souls of those he questions during investigations. He reflects on their life experience, their aspirations, their motivations and their passions.


In The Madness of Crowds, beyond the strongly individualistic, even idiosyncratic, continuing characters of Three Pines, we read of a pair of striking personalities who defy easy classification.


As set out in my last post Haniya Daoud, the Hero of the Sudan, is a great humanitarian dedicated to the cause of suffering women and children around the world. At the same time she has committed violent acts to survive and has a mean personality with a biting tongue. The Nobel Peace Prize candidate is barely civil in conversation.


The village has a distinguished retired thoracic surgeon, Dr. Vincent Gilbert, living a hermit’s life in the woods near Three Pines. He has saved many lives but is a nasty man whom the villagers refer to as the Asshole Saint.


Great humanists may not be great humans. There are humanists who do not love humans.


Gamache bites back retorts to Daoud’s cruel remarks. He views her as a haunted soul.


With Gilbert, Gamache appreciates his intellect and work as a doctor but sees a self-pitying doctor living in exile who focuses on how everyone’s words and actions affect him.


Gamache cares about each person with whom he meets and talks.


I have spent 46 years in the practice of law. During that time part of my work has been defending men and women charged with criminal offences. I know most are guilty but not all. I do value that our system of criminal justice puts the onus upon the Crown to prove guilt by the high standard of beyond reasonable doubt. I would dread a system where guilt is a statistical analysis.


I strive to see each client as a person. There is a continuous risk in the law as with othe professions to get cynical. I believe our system can only work when accused are judged as inviduals.


I have admired Viktor Fankl, the Viennese psychiatrist who is a Nazi concentration camp surivivor, since I read of him 50 years ago in second year university in a class called The Philosophy of Religion. 


In my review of his great book, Man’s Search for Meaning, I stated:


Frankl said it “does not matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us”. If suffering is your task in life it is necessary to face it with dignity. All life has meaning. He said those with religious faith understood their sacrifice.


For Gamache his grandaughter, Idola, who has Down Syndrome has value as does Abigail Robinson. 


If we all recognize each life is worthy we can defeat the views of those who would believe in an Abigail Robinson.

****

Penny, Louise – (2005) - Still Life; (2006) - Dead Cold (Tied for 3rd Best fiction of 2006); (2007) - The Cruelest Month; (2009) - The Murder Stone (Tied for 4th Best fiction of 2009); (2010) - The Brutal Telling; (2011) - Bury Your Dead (Best Fiction of 2011); (2011) - A Trick of the Light; (2012) - The Beautiful Mystery (Part I) and The Beautiful Mystery (Part II); (2013) - "P" is for Louise Penny - Movie Producer and Review of the Movie of Still Life; (2013) - How the Light Gets In; (2014) - The Long Way Home; (2014) - The Armand Gamache Series after 10 Mysteries - Part I and Part II; (2015) - The Nature of the Beast (Part I) and The Nature of the Beast (Part II); (2016) - A Great Reckoning - The Academy and Comparisons and The Map; (2016) - Louise Penny and Michael Whitehead Holding Hands; (2017) - Glass Houses - Happiness and Unhappiness and Getting the Law Wrong; (2019) - Kingdom of the Blind and Irreconcilable Dispositions; (2019) - A Better Man; (2020) - All the Devils are Here and Relationship Restaurants in Fiction and Real Life and Reading of the Marais Simultaneously; (2021) - The Madness of Crowds and Responding to Evil; Hardcover

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Responding to Evil in The Madness of Crowds

In The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny, beyond the solving of a murder and delving into the reactions to a study advocating institutionalized killing of the unproductive members of society there is an uncomfortable exploration of how we act when faced with great evil.

Haniya Daoud, the Hero of the Sudan, is visiting Three Pines. Daoud was “sold into slavery when she was eleven” and cruelly treated. Armand thinks the scars upon her face symbolize a person imprisoned by their past. She has lost her own children but worked relentlessly to save and improve the lives of women and children around the world. At 23 she is worshipped. At the same time she has a disdain, for at least everyone in Three Pines, that she readily expresses.


In a beautifully written passage Reine-Marie drawing on a poem of Ruth captures the essence of Haniya:


Who hurt you once, so far beyond repair?


Though they knew who’d hurt her. Not just her torturers. They all had, by their silence and inaction.


She calls Armand weak, even feeble, for failing to stop Robinson from speaking. Haniya accurately senses that Armand loathes Robinson. She skewers him saying he would speak and give money for causes but “won’t actually lift a finger to stop a tyrant”.


Within the book is a description of a real life Canadian psychiatrist, Ewen Cameron, who played God and, in the interests of psychiatric research and CIA money, tortured people. No one stopped him.


Each character looks within their soul to see what they have done to save the victims of torture. 


And if you have joined in torture can you atone for your actions? If you are Catholic you need to confess and do penance. In the criminal justice system, if you are convicted you need to express remorse and do time. If you are neither religious nor found guilty in a court you face a lifetime psychological burden.


Is there a time limit on responding to torture?


The last prosecutions of Nazi concentration camp guards are taking place. The accused are men and women in their 90’s. The Holocaust took place over 75 years ago. None of the latest accused I have read about directly participated in the planning of the Holocaust or the killing. What should the consequences be for these elderly men and women? 


Not all responses to those who have committed wicked acts are predictable.


Rudolph Hoess, the commandant at Auschwitz, was tried in Poland after the war. Sister Gaudia, a Polish nun, in the online Catholic website, Aleteia, said he returned to the Catholic faith to which he had been born because he was not mistreated or tortured by his Polish guards:


“They treated him mercifully,” she said. “Mercy is the love we know that we do not deserve. He doesn’t deserve their forgiveness, their goodness, their gentleness. And he received all that.”


He confessed to a Jesuit priest and received the Eucharist before he was executed.


Few among us whether fictional characters or real life readers can say we have acted against evil beyond expressions of sympathy or condemnation and possibly a donation of money to a worthy cause.


Within the book are police officers who have put their lives at stake to stop violence and remove those at risk from further harm. Yet they are not to harm or kill those who have committed vile crimes. Over the past several hundred years Anglo - American justice has rejected the vigilante response to crime in favour of a justice system with trials to determine guilt and judges to hand out measured punishment.


But Abigail Robinson will never face a criminal trial. She has not committed a crime under the Criminal Code of Canada. She advocates for laws that would kill those who burden society. She would pevert our system of justice to legalize killing.


Thousands, perhaps millions, support her. Many more reject her. Might she gain the support of governments facing fiscal crises? Should she be silenced by direct action to preserve humanity?


What would you do to oppose an Abigail Robinson?

****

Penny, Louise – (2005) - Still Life; (2006) - Dead Cold (Tied for 3rd Best fiction of 2006); (2007) - The Cruelest Month; (2009) - The Murder Stone (Tied for 4th Best fiction of 2009); (2010) - The Brutal Telling; (2011) - Bury Your Dead (Best Fiction of 2011); (2011) - A Trick of the Light; (2012) - The Beautiful Mystery (Part I) and The Beautiful Mystery (Part II); (2013) - "P" is for Louise Penny - Movie Producer and Review of the Movie of Still Life; (2013) - How the Light Gets In; (2014) - The Long Way Home; (2014) - The Armand Gamache Series after 10 Mysteries - Part I and Part II; (2015) - The Nature of the Beast (Part I) and The Nature of the Beast (Part II); (2016) - A Great Reckoning - The Academy and Comparisons and The Map; (2016) - Louise Penny and Michael Whitehead Holding Hands; (2017) - Glass Houses - Happiness and Unhappiness and Getting the Law Wrong; (2019) - Kingdom of the Blind and Irreconcilable Dispositions; (2019) - A Better Man; (2020) - All the Devils are Here and Relationship Restaurants in Fiction and Real Life and Reading of the Marais Simultaneously; (2021) - The Madness of Crowds; Hardcover

Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny


(30. - 1102.) The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny - Armand and Marie-Reine Gamache are back in Three Pines. Most important, their newest grandchild, Idola, is present. Idola has Down Syndrome. They love her fiercely.

Colette Roberge, the Chancellor of the Université de l’Estrie, has asked for Armand, Chief Inspectior of the Homicide Division of the Sûreté du Quebec, to provide security for a public address being given by a statistician, Abigail Robinson. She has analyzed massive amounts of information on societies, trends and the Covid pandemic. She has taken a phrase of hope for recovery from the pandemic, All will be well, and twisted it into a phrase supporting her thesis that for the world to recover from the pandemic and thrive there needs to be “mercy” killings, especially of the aged, and abortions of the deformed unborn. Those who burden society are to be removed.


Annie and Jean-Guy, the daughter and son-in-law of the Gamaches, are the parents of Idola. Jean-Guy feels guilty about considering Idola a “burden”. He and Annie had considered abortion when they learned she had Down’s Syndrome but felt it wrong to abort when the baby was developing normally in every other way.


Wisely preparing for the worst, Armand has dozens of agents at the hall where Robinson is to speak to an overflowing crowd. 


Robinson avoids rhetoric and incendiary statements. She is mild in speech going through her statistical analysis dispassionately. She is convincing because she appears and speaks rationally. Moral consequences do not fit into statistics. While most are repelled by her conclusions, there are many eager to embrace them:


Of course, if Professor Robinson’s findings were implemented, it meant the right to die became the obligation to die, but sacrifices needed to be made. In a free society.


Whose life should be considered not worthy? Robinson’s statistics tell her.


As she moves into her address firecrackers provide distraction and then two shots are fired at Robinson.


Armand and his team are protecting a woman whose views Armand abhors. He had experienced the official indifference to the fate of the elderly and infirm in Quebec nursing homes who died in droves early in the pandemic. And there is Idola.


While Robinson would kill thousands, even millions, for the greater good who would kill to thwart the spread of her ideas.


Penny creates an amazing New Year’s Eve party. Everyone from the village gathers at the Auberge. An intellectual confrontation over scientific “facts” and “truths” takes place while the children of the village, carrying on a Québecois tradition, act out a fable which this year is “The Animals Sick of the Plague”.


There has been grave debate within the celebration of the new year. Whether goodness is fragile. Will a death end a movement or create a martyr for the cause? 


Then murder is done in the woods outside the inn. All present are suspects as no one is sure whether the deceased was the intended victim and fierce emotions are swirling about that might sway any of them to kill


Robinson has caused an emotional reckoning of the worth of lives. 


A retired doctor, Vincent Gilbert, provides a description of those with Down Syndrome:


“They’re kind. Content. They don’t judge. They don’t hide their feelings. There’s no hidden agenda. Complete acceptance. If that isn’t grace, I don’t know what is. I’m not saying people with Down Syndrome are perfect or always easy. That would be to trivalize them, make them sound like pets. What I am saying is that in my experience they make better humans than most.”


Everyone has a family member who is profoundly disabled. It may be a child or an adult or a senior. Penny provides examples from the families of the characters. A chill went through me as I thought of Penny’s brilliant husband, Michael, who endured a devastating decline with Alzheimer’s. How Penny and friends worked together to keep him safe and comfortable and loved at home. And how he died with Penny holding his hand.


On virtually every page there is a scene or a conversation or a reflection that caused me to lift my eyes from the book and think upon what I had just read. There were pages where I murmured aloud with wonderment.


The startling depths of connections between the characters are amazing. Intricate but never implausible. Suffering going back generations is revealed.


The Madness of Crowds is a return to my favourite books in the series where Armand solves a challenging crime with his brains - where his mind is more important than his gun.


Amidst the exploration of great questions of life and death and investigation of murder Penny emphasizes the small joys of family and community life. Taking a grandchild out for a toboggan ride. Blueberry pancakes and maple smoked bacon for breakfast.


(It is a book so rich in storylines and characters that I need another two posts to set out my reactions and thoughts upon the book.)

****

Penny, Louise – (2005) - Still Life; (2006) - Dead Cold (Tied for 3rd Best fiction of 2006); (2007) - The Cruelest Month; (2009) - The Murder Stone (Tied for 4th Best fiction of 2009); (2010) - The Brutal Telling; (2011) - Bury Your Dead (Best Fiction of 2011); (2011) - A Trick of the Light; (2012) - The Beautiful Mystery (Part I) and The Beautiful Mystery (Part II); (2013) - "P" is for Louise Penny - Movie Producer and Review of the Movie of Still Life; (2013) - How the Light Gets In; (2014) - The Long Way Home; (2014) - The Armand Gamache Series after 10 Mysteries - Part I and Part II; (2015) - The Nature of the Beast (Part I) and The Nature of the Beast (Part II); (2016) - A Great Reckoning - The Academy and Comparisons and The Map; (2016) - Louise Penny and Michael Whitehead Holding Hands; (2017) - Glass Houses - Happiness and Unhappiness and Getting the Law Wrong; (2019) - Kingdom of the Blind and Irreconcilable Dispositions; (2019) - A Better Man; (2020) - All the Devils are Here and Relationship Restaurants in Fiction and Real Life and Reading of the Marais Simultaneously; Hardcover

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Three Pines: The Amazon Prime Series


Through the fine blog The Rap Sheet I learned that Amazon Prime will be showing in 2022 a T.V. Series, Three Pines, made by Left Bank Pictures. I am a touch embarrassed that I had not realized a series based on Louise Penny’s books. I say “based” as the Prime press release says it is an “original scripted series”. There will be 8 one hour episodes filmed this fall and early winter.

The T.V. series will be the second time the Armand Gamache mysteries have been put on film. In 2013 the first book in the series, Still Life, was adapted for a T.V. movie which was filmed by and shown on Canada’s public broadcaster, the CBC. Penny was a producer of the movie.


In my review, a link is below, I thought the movie was alright but concluded it was fundamentally flawed by the casting of British actor, Nathaniel Parker, as Gamache. The movie created a lot of interest among the readers of the books. My review is the second most read post on my blog.


I was unhappy with Parker’s “urbane English accents”. That was unfair as Penny had in the books that Gamache learned English while resident in England.


What I consider fair is that Parker never fit my image of Gamache from the books. Both in appearance and mannerisms I did not feel Parker was a distinguished French Canadian.


For the new series English American actor, Alfred Molina, has been chosen to play Gamache. He is also a producer of the series.


Molina has had a wide and varied career. At looper.com he is described as having been:


... in an array of movies and TV shows, including “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Chocolat.” However, he’s perhaps best known as the villain Doc Ock in Spider’Man2,” …


In the Amazon press release Christina Wayne, head of Canadian Originals at Amazon Studios gushes:


“Alfred Molina perfectly embodies the cerebral and compassionate nature of Gamache, and leads a tremendous cast.”


Above is a photo of Molina. In it he is an excellent visual image of the Gamache I imagine from the books.


As to capturing Gamache’s character I will have to be convinced. 


It remains hard for me to understand why a French Canadian actor was not chosen for the role. I expect it was an issue of name recognition. Getting a well known English / American actor is bound to be easier to promote but much harder to be credible in the role. Choosing Parker did not go well.


There is style and je ne sais quoi to French Canadians that is difficult to master.


The press release describes Gamache as:


…. A man who sees things that others do not: the light between the cracks, the mythic in the mundane, and the evil in the seemingly ordinary. As he investigates a spate of murders in Three Pines, a seemingly idyllic village, he discovers long-buried secrets and faces a few of his own ghosts.


I pray the series focuses on Gamache as a thoughtful man rather than the typical American detective willing, even eager, to use violence to solve murders.


I am hopeful for the series as Left Bank Pictures produced one of my favourite series in recent years, The Crown


There is apparently going to be an indigenous component to the series by the indigenous actors named in the release. Indigenous story lines will be a definite departure from the themes of the books.


The press release says Emilia di Girolamo will adapt the novels as lead writer with Catherine Tregenna writing two episodes. Di Girolamo is a British writer who is best known as a screenwriter for the T.V. series, Law and Order: U.K.


In creating a series based on a long running mystery series I wonder whether Three Pines will be more like Bosch or Longmire. In Bosch there was a main story that ran through each season with an individual storyline in each episode. Longmire had a season story but was more focused on a mystery in each episode.


I thought the movie Still Life struggled to capture the nuances of the books. I believe Gamache and the other residents of Three Pines are better suited to a series.


The series is being filmed in the Eastern Townships of Quebec and the city of Montreal where the books have been set so I expect the series to be visually stunning.


What I have been unable to determine is whether Penny has a role in the series. From the press release through various articles none have spoken of her being an active participant. As noted above she was a producer on the movie 8 years ago. As noted in another post, a link is below, I set out some of her reservations over letting her books becoming movies or a T.V. series


Three Pines is definitely a series I want to watch next year.

****

Reviewing the Movie Adaptation of Louise Penny's Still Life



Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Flat Out Delicious by Jenn Sharp

(31. - 1103.) Flat Out Delicious by Jenn Sharp (Photography by Richard Marjan) - Saskatchewan is known for farming. Vast fields of wheat, canola and barley dominate the southern half of our province. While we are known for feeding the world there has been a steady growth in smaller food adventures. Flat Out Delicious is a guide to 167 Saskatchewan food artisans with great photos.

Sharp travelled around Saskatchewan conducting over 150 interviews as she assembled information on farms, restaurants and all sorts of other food ventures.


Not too many years ago Sharon and I would visit markets and unique restaurants in Toronto and Vancouver. On trips to Europe we would marvel at the foods and drinks available in the countryside and wish there could be such food options in Saskatchewan.


For a time I thought the long distances between our communities and the sparse population of the province meant it was too difficult to sustain food artisans. We have just over a million people in a province nearly the size of Texas and almost three times the size of the United Kingdom.


As I live outside Regina and Saskatoon I will focus my review on ventures that I personally know in rural Saskatchewan.


Hodgson Farms is located a few kilometers from Melfort where Sharon and I live. I know Susan and Mark. I see Susan Thursdays in Melfort at their outdoor market venue. The book discusses a pair of their specialities - cantaloupes and oversize strawberries. I was startled when I first saw their cantaloupes for they are grown outside rather than in greenhouses. While frost threatens crops in spring and fall the Hodgsons have learned to grow Halona cantaloupes in Saskatchewan. They have wonderful flavour much more vibrant than the cantaloupes grown thousands of kilometers from Saskatchewan and trucked here. Our granddaughters Hannah (3) and Hazel (2) loved the Hodgson Farms cantaloupes when they visited us this summer.


Just over 100 kilometres to the northeast of Melfort is the Mabel Hill Restaurant and Marketplace at Nipawin. We have enjoyed several meals. I wrote a post (a link is below) about our 40th anniversary meal at Mabel Hill in August of 2019.


Michael Brownlee is the accomplished chef and owner of Mabel Hill. Flat Out Delicious quotes him on his philosophy:


“I wanted to see what’s possible - what you can grow every day and every year and how it can be changed into something absolutely beautiful.” Guests are invited to walk through the gardens, samplying the produce before sitting down for a meal. “The idea is to offer a sense of place.”


He is an excellent host with the occasional special touch for patrons. At a subsequent visit Michael provided us with cantaloupe liqueur. While it came from Italy, maybe someday local cantaloupes will be used.


Last month Sharp and her crew from the Flat Out Food Series were back at Mabel Hill on another long summer tour around the province. On her Facebook page she talked about “harvesting ingredients” from the gardens for the night’s supper.


She provided a photo of a beautifully set up table of their meal at Mabel Hill.



Saskatchewan has some of the best honey in the world. Kitako Lake Honey produces high quality honey about half an hour south of Melfort. I know the owner Steve. I represented his parents when they established the business.


Steve moves his bees to gain honey from specific flower sources such as dandelions or clover. His approach reminds me of my father who was passionate about selling only alfalfa and clover honey from our farmyard when I was growing up at Meskanaw. Dad did not move his hives around but there was enough diversity in the area he could place hives where most of the blooms would be alfalfa or clover.


Unlike our apiary (my Dad never used that official name for a beekeeping business) Kitako creams its honey at “low temperatures so as not to damage the heath properties”. Our honey just naturally granulated.


Kitako has an interesting Facebook page (a link is below).


From my experiences, you can trust the information provided in Flat Out Delicious. Their descriptions are fair and accurate. They do not puff up ventures. It is an excellent book that food lovers can rely on for finding wonderful food places and food people in Saskatchewan. I would savour spending a full summer using the book to go from artisan to artisan around the province.

****

Our Fortieth Anniversary

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Berlin Life in Germania

In my review of Germania by Harald Gilbers I focused on the crime fiction aspects of the book in which Richard Oppenheimer, a former Jewish police inspector, is called upon by SS Haupsturmführer Vogler to aid in the investigation for a serial sexual predator. I spoke of the book being fine fiction with a criminal case as its theme. The book provided a vivid portrayal of life in Germany late in World War II. Fellow blogger, Margot Kinberg, commented on that post that the book looked to have a lot of “richness”. Her remark was apt. The book is rich in details. This post will provide illustrations. A warning that some may find the information spoilers.

Oppenheimer and his wife, Lisa, live in a Jewish House whose inhabitants are intermarried couples with one spouse Jewish and the other non-Jewish. I knew being in an intermarried or mixed marriage provided a level of protection from deportation to the death camps for the Jewish spouse but I had never heard of Jewish Houses where such couples were grouped together.


 Judenhäuser were not ghettos so much as designated housing for the mixed marriage couples. Doing a little research some couples survived the war living in such housing.


The Museum Blindenwerskatt said about 8,000 Jews survived the war in Berlin with most of them in mixed marriages.


The investigation takes Oppenheimer into a home for the Lensborn. While he had thought it a form of brothel to create babies to maintain the German population he finds the actual circumstances more complex.


He finds that the organizers are not seeking to undermine marriage. For women unable to find a partner they are “considering offering help” in the form of “procreation helpers” but trials were unsuccessful because of the low quality of men who volunteered.


The doctor in charge of the home then recounts a bizarre idea of Heinrich Himmler:


“Did you know, the Reich Leader SS advocates a fascinating theory. He has found proof that procreation helpers existed in Teuton and Dorian times …. The chosen man had to mate with her on the ancestral grave at night and remained anonymous in the sexual act.”


Returning to reality, what caught me off guard was how ordinary life continued in Berlin a year before the end of the war. Electricity, telephones, gas, water, trains all continued to be available. People went to work each day. They drank with friends, went to the cinema and enjoyed time in the parks of the city.  Bombs would cause damage. Repairs would be made to infrastructure and bombed out Berliners would seek refuge with family and neighbours. I realized life had to continue but had not considered how much of life remained routine.


However, the bombing is growing more intense. After attacking London with V-1’s the retaliatory attacks on Berlin are larger and more often especially in Central Berlin. Oppenheimer walks through the devastation of a bombing as he goes to the Reich Chancellery. Bodies, rubble, the occasional time fused bomb going off create a form of hell on earth. 


Gilbers writes:


It might be a controversial question whether all humans were equal before God, but there was no doubt in regard to the bombs; they claimed any life.  


In real life I knew a woman who had been an air raid warden during the bombing Blitz of London. Forty years later she could not be in a room with popping balloons.


Life’s little pleasures are rationed to the point of rarity. Oppenheimer’s new status as an investigator for the Nazis lets him enjoy a cup of real coffee or a cigarette. As well, he gains easy access to the methamphetamines that many people, not just the military, use to keep going.


There is a mix of historical figures amidst the fictional characters.


Oppenheimer meets up with ctual Berlin police officer Arthur Nebe. He was a rival with Oppenheimer in the Berlin police force. While neither as skilled nor as successful on examinations as Oppenheimer,  Nebe achieved his ambitions by becoming an early Nazi party member, moving up in the ranks, and avidly pursuing anti-Jewish policies.


Later Oppenheimer meets a fictional police colleague who spent time in Poland where he participated in the murder of thousands, mostly Jews. He reflected the ordinary Germans who carried out the Holacaust. Every German had choices during the war. He tells Oppenheimer the few who refused to murder were berated but had no futher punishment. Oppenheimer wonders if his regret is over committing murder or self-pity at being ordered to kill men, women and children.


Hilde introduces him to members of the traditional German intelligence service under Admiral Canaris who are working for Germany and against Hitler. They have insights into the investigation not revealed by Vogler.


In one of the most surreal scenes I have read in a historical novel the German Nazi leader Goebbels, wanting Oppenheimer to have freedom to investigate, orderss:


“For my part, you are suspended from affiliation to the Jewish people until the end of the investigation. Until then, you are to be treated as an Aryan.”


When convenient for the Nazis, a Jew becomes an Aryan.

****

Germania by Harald Gilbers