Munich: The Man Who Said No! by David Laws
|Munich: The Man Who Said No! by David Laws|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A piece of pleasant escapism from this author, as unlikely academic procedures provide us with an unexpected plot.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 368||Date: February 2018|
|External links: Author's website|
I've played Neville Chamberlain in public, you know – a full one-line in a Beyond the Fringe sketch, where he says he has a piece of paper from Hitler. I then proceeded to prove it was a paper bag, in fact, by blowing it up and immediately bursting it. That is what that paper was to many – the indicator of a lot of hot air, and only leading to an unwelcome noise, when WW2 actually struck anyway. Certainly, not everyone was keen on his appeasement with the Nazis, and this book opens with the first-person reportage of one such man, keen on showing proof to Chamberlain that he should not sign the Sudetenland away. But he only got so far before his story was cut off entirely – leaving a grand-daughter, Emma, at Cambridge but under a cloud of ignominy, to pick the last, barest threads of the story up and see just what did happen to him. Oh, and her help has just come out of prison…
That makes for a more-than decent precis for a thriller – it's not changing history to make a full what-if scenario, but adding a fictional character into a key, behind-closed-doors, global event. But what we have is a five hundred page novel, a real unapologetic airport shop door-stopper. OK, I'll come out with it – the story of what really happened to the man is not the only story here. And what brings the rest slowly to light is actually a flaw for the book. Our heroine's superior at Cambridge tasks her with constructing a conference on the Appeasement matter, which seems the least effective way to prove to the world a new discovery is of interest, seems to have a list of attendants nobody actually pieced together, allowing all and sundry to turn up, and which seems to be just a private yack-fest with incredibly fluid schedule, and nothing that would help Emma in her search. This whole aspect seemed utterly unrealistic to me, even if I bow to the author's superior knowledge of such things.
At the same time, the connection between Emma and her 'helper', however good his attributes, is still debatable, still a little guessable, and still a little too formulaic. I'm not saying there is a huge crop needed here, but I did think the pages, even given this edition's fairly large font, were a tad too numerous. That said, they do provide for no end of shenanigans – the author really knows how to pack the action with twists, shifts in emphasis from one subject to another, and highly dramatic genre tropes. He seems to have researched Munich to death (and a glimpse at a future book suggests another German setting) – and in fact he conveys a lot here with authority.
It's not perfect – the papers that got dug up early on here seemed to lead to nowhere, and the characters ask at least one question that history doesn't answer them, which stands out as a potential plot hole. Similarly, the author tries to deftly move from the POV of Emma to her assistant, and to a historical reportage, and while this is nearly there it doesn't quite fully nail the voice each time. A couple of opinions suggest that Germany just never moves on, which is not fully true. But boy, if you want a book that can offer the usual thriller tropes – and still pull the wool over your eyes, and impress you with its moral heart – then you can get on board here with no problem.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
Most thriller fans will have considered the world where Churchill did not take the reins to replace Chamberlain, through the pages of Dominion by C J Sansom.
You can find out more about David Laws here.
You can read more book reviews or buy Munich: The Man Who Said No! by David Laws at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Munich: The Man Who Said No! by David Laws at Amazon.com.
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