Adrian Magson is the author of 20 crime and spy thrillers, including the Harry Tate series, the Lucas Rocco series and the Marc Portman series. His latest books are ‘The Locker’ (Midnight Ink - Feb 2016) the first in a new thriller series, and ‘Hard Cover’ (Severn House - March 2016), the third of his Marc Portman novels.
At first glance, I wasn’t sure if the overall subject matter here would allow adequate space for a crime within a greater crime (that of the creation of the Warsaw ghetto). But as soon as I began reading, I was hooked.
Eric Cohen, an elderly psychiatrist living with his niece and her son, Adam, appears at first hand to be a commentator on the awfulness of winter and the ghetto, where Jews are dying in the streets, lacking warmth, food and any of what might be termed normal human comforts. But Cohen is much more than a bystander. And it takes the murder of Adam, followed by the suicide of his niece, to bring out of the old man an inner resourcefulness and anger which makes him face up to a basic human responsibility and demand to know who has killed the boy – and why they have cut off his leg.
He soon discovers that Adam is not the first murder victim, and not the first to suffer the removal of a body part. Is it, as one superstitious lady claims, the work of someone creating a golem – a supernatural body brought to life? Or is there a more prosaic explanation, such as the deaths merely being a by-product of the world gone mad combined with the brutality of the Nazis meting out death and mutilation on innocent children because of their religion?
Risking all, Eric follows a number of trails, taking him out of the ghetto to where he can be shot on sight, to the realisation that children, even in time of great threat, harbour secrets; that they possess a life to which their elders are not party. For most, it is an adventure, the pushing against enforced boundaries of safety and geography. For some, like young beggars and jugglers on the street, it is simply survival. In each case, their pursuit of daily life is equally dangerous.
Set against such a backdrop, this is an amazing book. I was enthralled and appalled in turn; enthralled by the simple effectiveness of the writing and the dark humour of Eric’s story as the old man, assisted by his friend Izzy, goes about hunting down clues in what seems a community too brutalised by cruelty to hold any chance whatsoever of finding a truth - any truth; and appalled by the vivid descriptions of life without hope, where lying down and freezing to death in the street offers a way out… and where a corpse is simply something to be disposed of with little outward emotion or care.
I wasn’t sure that I’d enjoy this book – especially given its appalling backdrop. But I did. Hugely.