Wednesday, January 1, 2014
another indie -- and it's a good one: Pilgrim Soul, by Gordon Ferris
Corvus/Atlantic Books, 2013
paper -- my sincere thanks to Shannon for my copy
First - an apology to Shannon who sent me this book a while back. I had my nose stuck in Eleanor Catton's delightful but very long The Luminaries and had to put Pilgrim Soul on the back burner for the duration.
Reading indie crime fiction can be iffy at times, but this one I really liked. It's book number three in a series, and it also overlaps with another series the author wrote that features one of the characters, a friend of the main character. Pilgrim Soul is set in Glasgow in 1947, during an incredibly cold winter; it was so bad that a train was robbed of its cargo of coal and people were using church pews for firewood. The lead protagonist is Douglas Brodie, former cop, not so long out of the army and now a crime reporter for a newspaper. The action starts when Brodie is visited by a group of four men, all Jewish, who report that homes in their community are being broken into. Brodie decides that the way to track down the culprit is to "follow the loot," and what he discovers sets off a chain reaction of deaths and launches Brodie back to a place he'd rather not be, as the crimes seem to be related to the concentration camps. Brodie, as it turns out, had witnessed firsthand some of the horrors of the Holocaust, serving as an interrogator of war criminals in Germany, and has since spent a great deal of time trying to forget. Now his past returns with a vengeance, and it just may be that he's gotten in way over his head.
While plotting, core mystery and the unraveling of it all are done very well, what I really enjoyed about this book was how the author locates his novel perfectly in time and place. Two years into the postwar period, the Holocaust has left a lot of Jewish people wanting to go to what will eventually become Israel a year later, and in the meantime, certain groups exists who believe the only way to get what they want is through terror. The Holocaust has also left its mark on non-Jews like Brodie, who suffers from what we now call PTSD after the horrors he witnessed in the camps and the testimonies he'd heard as an interrogator. And while the Nazi war crime trials are still going on, behind the scenes some of the intelligence services are working on preparing for the emerging new enemy, Stalin and the Soviets. And one more thing -- I'm always on guard against frivolous use of the Holocaust as a backdrop in a novel; here I needn't have worried.
This series sounds like one I'd like to start from the beginning, but this one is easily read as a standalone. Perhaps it's a bit too much for cozy readers; police procedural people would probably like it, fans of UK crime fiction will like it, as will people who enjoy historical fiction. It's not noirish but at the same time time, the novel does have a bit of an edge, which I always look for when I read crime. In short - I really liked this one.