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Garden of Beasts: A Novel of Berlin 1936    by Jeffery Deaver order for
Garden of Beasts
by Jeffery Deaver
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2004 (2004)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The title's 'Garden of Beasts' refers to Berlin's 'Tiergarten', 'where the royal families of imperial Germany would hunt game' and where Nazi Stormtroopers later indulged in their own bestial hunting of human prey. 1936 Berlin is the setting of Jeffery Deaver's first historical thriller, a book which the author dedicates to specific Germans who suffered for opposing the Nazis, 'four people who looked at evil and said, "no."'

The story's protagonist is Paul Schumann, a World War I veteran who has worked as a 'button man', a hired assassin for New York organized crime for years. He's good at the job that events propelled him into, and takes pride in killing only the evil, to 'correct God's mistakes'. Paul's forced by U.S. Naval Intelligence to take on the mission of assassinating Reinhard Ernst, a senior Nazi who is the 'brains behind rearmament', in public during the Berlin Summer Olympics. Paul's offered a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card, and enough cash to start a new life. Figuring it's 'six to five against', Schumann heads to Germany in the guise of a freelance reporter.

The action starts on the ship that holds the U.S. Olympics competitors and the sportswriter, and escalates to a killing during Paul's first meeting with his contact, Reggie Morgan. Soon, the Gestapo are scouring the streets of Berlin for a 'Russian' spy, and Willi Kohl (an astute, humane Kripo inspector who shields the innocent whenever feasible) and his subordinate Jannssen are hot on Paul's trail - and stay there, with regular narrow escapes for our hero. As we catch our breath after each one, Deaver shows us more of the button man's target, who turns out to be an engaging family man keeping his own secrets (the mysterious 'Waltham Study') from Hitler. Is this someone who deserves to die and will Schumann really pull the trigger?

Paul has help from a member of the Berlin underworld, a delightfully unrepentant rogue named Otto Webber. He falls for his pacifist landlady, Käthe, herself under suspicion from the authorities. And he circles ever closer to his target. But of course, the author throws in his trademark double and triple crosses, dizzying the reader with repeated layers of new truths over old illusions. Deaver ties it all up neatly in an unexpected ending that unveils an abominable monster in 'a great nation at heart, whose truths and ideals had somehow tragically been stolen by thieves.' I like Paul Schumann (a Scarlet Pimpernel of Nazi Germany) as much as Lincoln Rhyme, and hope to read many more of his adventures.

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