Book Review: Garden of Beasts – by Jeffery Deaver

The title for Jeffery Deaver’s novel Garden of Beasts comes from the central park in Berlin, called Tiergarten, meaning zoo, garden of animals, garden of game or, of course, garden of beasts. Tiergarten was where the emperor of the Second Reich, Kaiser Wilhelm, used to go hunting. The beasts reference is for the Nazi leaders. Many Germans of  the day thought of their leadership as criminals, thugs or beasts.

The entire story plays within a few days in Berlin in the summer of 1936, days before the Olympic Games started. It is a novel, all events are fictional, but the background, the historical frame and the major political figures are real. It provides excellent insight into the inner circle of the Nazi regime, including some of the thinking, attitudes and foibles of the ruling triumvirate of Hitler, Goebbels and Göring. It was an interesting read for me right after reading Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada, which plays about the same time, also in Berlin. Some of the same places were referenced, like the headquarters of the Gestapo on the Alexanderplatz and Hitler’s Chancellery.

At one point, talking about cars:

The Folks-Wagon, it is to be called. A car for everybody. You can pay by installments then pick it up when you’ve paid in full. Not a bad idea. The company can make use of the money and they still keep the car in case you don’t complete the payments. Is that not brilliant?

The plot is about an intrigue of the American government to kill Colonel Reinhard Ernst (fictional), the architect of Hitler’s rearmament effort, and by killing him, preventing another war in Europe. Paul Schumann, the protagonist, is an American hit man from New York City who, due to his upbringing, speaks flawless German. Paul is sent into Berlin with the Olympic team as a journalist with a mission of an entirely different nature. As you might imagine, it’s not easy to “touch off” a crime boss in Brooklyn. Going after somebody within Hitler’s inner circle in Berlin would be a matter of an order of magnitude more difficulty.

Unlike Fallada’s book, which I read in the original German language, Garden of Beasts is written in English. The author does a pretty good job letting the characters speak German most of the time, including the American protagonists. It was a bit strange to follow at times, particularly when a character like Heinrich Himmler would use an English expressions that I knew would not translate into German. Deaver also translates German terms we all know, like Führer, which seems somewhat unnecessary.

Central to the plot is that Schumann speaks almost accent-free German. Indeed, at one time he impersonates an SS officer. Having heard many Americans over the years speak excellent German, I have not ever heard one yet where it was not obvious that he was an American. As a result, Schumann seemed somewhat unreal to me at times.

Garden of Beasts is a fairly long novel (you can never tell how long with the Kindle, unfortunately – I am looking forward to a better book sizing format in the future), and it kept me turning the pages until late into the night. Garden of Beasts is a rewarding crime and detective story with an educational historical background and some real heroes.

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