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Wednesday 28 January 2015

Review: Ben Fergusson, The Spring of Kasper Meier

I had just read Joseph Kanon's, The Good German (see previous review) so I was curious to see how this book, also set in the ruins of post-War Berlin, compared. There are similarities: the evocation of life in a destroyed city, black markets and rackets, the legacy of the Russian mass rapes. But whereas Kanon's main characters are members of the occupying forces, Fergusson's are German. And his main character, Kasper Meier, is homosexual (or possibly bi-sexual) - a man who before the war ran a gay bar and whose lover was killed by the Nazis. 

Fergusson's plot is much less oriented towards possible movie scenes and, I think it's fair to say, less mainstream. Kasper Meier is singled out for blackmail, but the blackmail is rather unusual, and when he goes in search of the blackmailer, he enters a world which one could thumbnail as Kafkaesque. It's very well done. As eventually becomes clear, the supposed blackmail scheme is a front for another, worse scheme. Eventually, Kasper penetrates to the truth and - after several escapes in which he is implausibly bullet-proof - secures a happy ending for himself and the original emissary of the blackmail scheme, Eva.

Both Kasper and Eva are built up as many-faceted, interesting characters. They are not super-sleuths who populate most thrillers, but emerge through the story as interesting human beings.

There are a few proof reading slips and one howler, "St Petersburg" for "Leningrad" on page 325. This novel is set in 1946! It always amazes me when authors who acknowledge so much help from others have failed to find just one reader who could save them from a gross mistake.

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