(4. - 1119.) The Traitors of Camp 133 by Wayne Arthurson -
"Mueller looked to be kneeling in the corner, praying. But the truth was his knees were inches off the floor. A rope hung from a coat hook and was wrapped around his neck."
In June of 1944 Captain Mueller with 12,000 other German soldiers, sailors, airmen, submariners, SS and legionnaires are in a prison camp near Lethbridge, Alberta. In the manner of bureaucracies everywhere the guards let the prisoners mainly administer themselves making it “essentially a German military camp”.
Sergeant August Neumann, Head of Civil Security, and his assistant, Corporal Klaus Aachen, find Mueller while doing rounds. Neumann is sure it is murder not suicide.
Mueller was unpopular with some prisoners and called “the Bolshevik” not from his political views but because:
He was more interested in helping the younger and less-educated soldiers improve themselve so they could find better positions when the conflict ends.
With multiple rows of barbed wire surrounding the camp the killer was either a prisoner or a guard. None of the prisoners think it was a guard.
Neumann, 6 ½ feet tall and strongly built, is a commanding presence. He is respected, even feared, because he is “no ordinary sergeant”.
There are power struggles within the camp. Was Mueller caught up in camp politics or too outspoken about the war or was he killed because of a personal conflict?
Traitors are not just despised. They are eliminated.
Though many of the prisoners are physically softened by prison camp life virtually all the prisoners are very capable killers.
Neumann is a shrewd investigator skillled at reading psyches, well aware of the camp’s internal tensions, ready to push the righteous Nazis and willing to back off when appropriate.
Neumann and Aachen have the special bond that comes from combat in the same unit. They were captured in North Africa.
They are dogged in their search for a killer many in camp would be content never be found.
With little back story for Neumann and Aachen there is an air of mystery about them. For Neumann we learn little of his life before the war beyond that he was a soldier in WW I and was a “village policeman”. I would have preferred more on the lives of Neumann and Aachen. It would have helped me to understand their motivations and decisions.
The plot is a classic mystery in the sense of a closed setting with all the suspects unable to leave.
It is a challenge to have the characters doing enough to be interesting. Arthurson does well in maintaining interest in a setting where boredom is rampant for there is a lot of time with little to do. Camp 133 is an interesting book. I am glad to have read it.