Mysterious Press/Open Road, 2013
available October 1
advanced reader copy/Kindle, offered through Netgalley (thanks!)
"...faced with certain unbearable facts, one tends to take refuge in the absurd."
J. Sydney Jones is a new author for me, but he's already written two historical crime novels set in Vienna just after the turn of the century. Ruin Value is a novel of historical crime fiction/thriller/suspense, set in Nuremberg on the eve of the trials. It's a good read, and it's obvious that the author has devoted a good amount of time to research that he has woven into his story to create a realistic sense of both time and place.
The story begins in November, 1945, as journalists are flocking to Nuremberg to cover the trials. On the ruined streets of the city, someone has murdered a Russian corporal, and the murderer has left behind a strange calling card -- a page from a novel with certain words underlined. The corporal had a pocket filled with drugs, possibly destined for the black market. The murder is handed over to the Kripo (criminal investigation division of the German Police) run by Chief Inspector Reinhard Manhof, who got his job when former Chief Inspector Werner Beck, a political prisoner during the war, returned to discover he'd been denounced for collaboration with the Gestapo and was imprisoned again. When a second murder occurs, same m.o., this time an American soldier, the American powers that be decide that they need to bring in someone of their own and choose Nate Morgan, an intelligence agent and former New York detective. If he doesn't solve the case, well, at least his failure would have fingers pointing squarely at him, and he is Jewish -- the "perfect flak jacket." Manhof and Morgan do not get along, but Nate is too good a cop to let their mutual dislike get in the way. After a third murder, Morgan realizes he's going to need some help with this case, so he turns to the imprisoned Beck, who agrees to help. Beck helps Nate round up several people who could be helpful with the case, which seems to be leading the investigation in the direction of either black market connections or a German resistance group called Werwolves. Beck suspects that perhaps the murders are tied to the trial somehow, but as more bodies pile up, the people in charge make it known to Morgan that nothing can get in the way of this historic event. Morgan has orders to keep the murders out of the paper, but there's a journalist who seems to be very interested in the story -- and also in Morgan. With very little to go on, Morgan and Beck do their best, but discover that every time they seem to make progress, someone is one step ahead of them, thwarting them at every turn.
Ruin Value is a good book, and if this is going to be the start of another series, I'd definitely read the next one. As I noted, it's rich in setting and the crime is well plotted. The importance of the Nuremberg Trials is spelled out in several places so the reader gets a sense of history in the making, even before it gets underway. The suspense kept me turning pages, but here's the issue -- the suspense didn't come from trying to figure out who the killer was because well, frankly, it was really obvious early on in the story. Now that I've got that out of the way, what kept me turning pages was whether or not Beck and Morgan were going to figure out who was actually running the show, and as things unfolded, the author did a good job of keeping that under wraps so that I was actually surprised when all was revealed -- I never suspected a thing. Morgan and Beck, their informants and the people they enlisted to help them were well drawn and believable, while the villain whose identity I guessed not to far into the story less so -- coming off as a kind of stereotype of total gung-ho Teutonic naziness in human form. On the other hand, this person is one who totally fits the opening quote of this review:
"...faced with certain unbearable facts, one tends to take refuge in the absurd"
so I suppose the character portrayal just might be appropriate after all. However, the motivation for this person's final deed just didn't fit with the rest of the story so I was a bit taken aback here.
All in all, however, I think this book will probably do well -- it's perfect for readers of historical crime fiction who like mysteries set in immediate postwar Europe and for readers who might be looking for a new crime writer who can whip up a good plot and keep it going consistently throughout the book. My thanks to Emma at Open Road for offering to let me read this one ahead of time.