Brodie is back. It's 1947, a few months after his last escapade in Bitter Water with a gang of vigilantes in Glasgow, and the policeman turned army officer turned reporter is asked to help a group of Jewish residents who are being routinely burgled, while the police basically turn a blind eye. This is a bit of private sleuthing he takes on to supplement his paltry income as a journalist and he quickly finds out that local hard nut Paddy Craven is behind the break-ins. But when Craven and the pawn-shop owner who revealed his identity to Brodie both turn up dead, our hero realises he has grabbed 'a string and found a tiger at the end of it'.
From there Gordon Ferris spins a huge story of conspiracy and war crimes, involving fleeing Nazis, Israeli hit squads and the worst winter of the Twentieth Century. His great skill is in evoking the snowbound setting of Glasgow and world-changing events, while creating distinctive characters in the foreground. All of it played out in a thriller at breakneck pace.
So, we learn that Ellen Jacobs, a young Jewish woman in fear of her life after the spate of murders, was making jewellery for Craven, but she suspects the stolen gold he was bringing her to melt and refashion was from the fillings of concentration camp victims. When Ellen is also murdered by a man called Dragan, the same brute who killed Craven, Brodie discovers that the killer was also burgled by Craven and that he was a former SS guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp. Glasgow, it turns out, may be part of a rat line for escaped Nazis on
Brodie is then recruited by MI5 to investigate these ratlines, a painful duty that means he must travel to frozen Hamburg for war crime trials with his 'landlady', advocate Samantha Campbell, with whom he lives and is in love. This is traumatic for the former major, now promoted to lieutenant colonel, forcing him to relive the horrors of the Belsen trials, during which he had to interrogate the murderers of men, women and children who lacked any remorse.
Brodie's struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and the way he relies on an old service friend, Danny, for support is a potent theme in Pilgrim Soul.
None of which detracts from the excellent action and tension of the story. While the violence is bloody and frequent, and the evil depicted quite shocking, Gordon Ferris writes with heart. His description of a modest Christmas for Brodie, Samantha and Brodie's mother is tender, a reminder of normality amid the violence.
He also creates an indelible portrait of Glasgow at this time. Here's Brodie visiting a pawn shop. 'I stood across the street peering through the dirty windows at lines of shelves displaying the mementoes of a thousand lives. Some of the treasures would have been there for years, surety on a loan that was never repaid, of a broken life that never quite got mended. Symbols of little failures burst dreams and ruptured marriages.'
A terrific blending of history and fiction that conjures an unforgettable thriller.