13 April 2009

Review: THE IRON HEART, Marshall Browne

William Hennemann Australia, 2009, ISBN 978-1-74166-467-6, 390 pages.

January 23 1939 is a big day for Berlin's Reichsbank - it has a new President and a new Chief Auditor. The latter is Franz Schmidt, recently divorced, and the saviour of Bankhaus Wertheim. The Reichsbank is the financial heart of the Third Reich, and Schmidt has been placed there by Manfred von Streck, a high-ranking member of the Nazi Party. Schmidt's role at present will be a watching one, von Streck's eyes and ears. He will report directly to Dr Walther Funk, the bank's president. But he suspects von Streck will require more of him.

Politically this is a time when even members of the Nazi party are divided about the future of Germany. Ideas of cleansing the population are gaining ascendance, with the Gestapo actively hunting down Jews and other traitorous elements. However not everyone in the party likes Hitler and there have already been plots to assassinate him. Party zealots though are insistent that everyone in high office should be a party member and that there is no room for anyone in a public institution like the Reichsbank for anyone who isn't. Franz Schmidt is a badge wearing party member, but this doesn't stop the zealots wondering how he got the job of Chief Auditor.

In Franz Schmidt's case his party membership is a camouflage, acquired for the same reason that he divorced his wife: to make it easier to undermine Nazism from within. Schmidt quickly realises that he will need to tread carefully in the Reichsbank: there are Nazi zealots like President Funk and the statuesque Fraulein Brandt, head of the Precious Metals Deaprtment, who will be watching his every move. And then Fischer, a non-party member, head of Foreign Bank Relations, is murdered on the eve of a trip to Switzerland.

THE IRON HEART is a thriller rather than a murder mystery. I haven't read many books set in the period immediately before the outbreak of World War 2. Browne has made me think about how dangerous it became in the face of rising Nazism to be a non-Nazi, a Jew, an aristocrat, or simply associated with one of these people. As Schmidt tries to achieve the task von Streck sets him, the danger for him, and the tension in the story, increases. The Gestapo are watching him and any false step will give them the opportunity to take him. It makes for very satisfying reading.

My rating: 4.5

In THE IRON HEART Marshall Browne obviously draws on considerable research into the period, as well as his own background as an international banker. THE IRON HEART is the second title in the series. The first was THE EYE OF THE ABYSS.

Marshall Browne is an Australian author living in Melbourne. He first came to attention when he won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Novel in 2000 with THE WOODEN LEG OF INSPECTOR ANDERS. Browne began writing in the 1970s as a "Sunday morning" writer, when living in Hong Kong. His first title CITY OF MASKS was published in 1981, and he now has thirteen published titles.

Other Reviews:
Links to check
Other titles I have read

INSPECTOR ANDERS and THE SHIP OF FOOLS (2001). My rating 4.2
Somebody doesn't want two big European companies to conduct a merger. An estimated 21,000 redundancies will occur if the merger goes ahead. So someone plants a bomb in the boardroom of ChemtexAG, a "fish tank" with walls of unbreakable glass, on the 33rd floor of a Frankfurt office tower. For the 16 directors of the two companies meeting in the room at the time, it is instant death, their remains coating the inside walls of the room just like paint. Interpol, in the person of one-legged Inspector Anders and his off-sider Matucci, are called in.
A group called Judgement Day claim responsibility, and seems to have some sort of link with the German terrorism of the 1970s. A message from the terrorists identifies another proposed merger as the next target and suddenly Anders has a race against time on his hands. Not so much a mystery as a thriller, #2 in Marshall Browne's Inspector Anders series. The action moves between Brussels, Strasbourg, and Paris.

RENDEZVOUS AT KAMAKURA INN (2006) my rating 4.3

Inspector Anders, whose specialisation is terrorism, has been sent by Europol to Italy to assist in the investigation of the murder of 2 right wing senior politicians. Just after he arrives in Milan, a third is murdered. The cause of their deaths appears to be a serial killer although the national government is saying terrorism.
In returning to Italy, in fact his 'home country' after 2 years, Anders is being put into great danger from the Mafia in the South who have threatened to 'get' him, and also from members of the public who hold him responsible for the deaths of innocent people when he hasn't solved terrorism threats quickly enough in the past.
There is a nice interweaving of personal issues, such as a book Anders is trying to get published, and a woman friend in Strasbourg whom he is very fond of. Anders has replaced his wooden leg with a titanium one.

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