The Spring of Kasper Meier by Ben Fergusson
|The Spring of Kasper Meier by Ben Fergusson|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: In peacetime life is just as cheap as in war and there are just as many ways to die. A riveting edgy post-WWII thriller set amongst the bleak rubble of bombed-out, starving Berlin.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 400||Date: July 2014|
|Publisher: Little Brown|
|External links: Author's website|
Germany may be defeated as the embers of World War II grow cold but Kasper Meier is making the most of it. His trade in black market goods and casual private investigation work augment the meagre rations for him and his dying father. When a mysterious woman named Eva asks him to find a missing British airman he refuses – it's not really in his line of business. She blackmails Kasper and still he refuses but then the note arrives: This is bigger than you. You don't have a choice. Queers still die in Berlin. Find the pilot.
It seems that he's been spied on and now he has a decision to make that will either cost or save his life.
This is British writer Ben Fergusson's first published novel but he hasn't exactly been sitting on a dusty shelf waiting for this moment to arrive. He's… Ready?… worked for 10 years as an editor and art publishing manager (currently for the prestigious Hayward Gallery in London), is a translator, editor since 2013 for the short story magazine Oval Short Fiction, has written short stories to award shortlist standard and has three other novels that, to date, remain unpublished. And breathe…
Ben's also travelled a bit, in fact Kasper Meier was written during a four year stay in Berlin itself. This is something the author feels was vital to the atmosphere of the novel and personally I won't argue with that. Ben has found a way to write that seeps atmosphere through each character's pores.
We who were born long after 1945 forget that normal life didn't return the moment that the truce was signed, especially for vanquished and decimated Germany. Berlin, divided up between the victorious allies, had its collective nose rubbed into its failures as well-fed foreign soldiers roamed the streets among the empty-eyed and empty bellied inhabitants.
As depicted in the novel, the occupiers seek distraction and entertainment. Sometimes it's offered to benefit the locals with a warm bed for the night or some food and sometimes the entertainment and distraction is just taken perfunctorily. This is the world in which Kasper fights for survival as the realisation hits that not all his enemies originate from outside Germany.
Kasper's father lives with him illegally taking up the apartment's second bedroom with his illness wracked body. Hidden within his failing frame are a great wisdom and a bravely sardonic wit that matches his son's. Meanwhile Kasper has his instincts and black market income to keep him going but not everyone has been so fortunate.
Our troubled hero remembers and carries with him ghosts from the past, imbuing Ben's narrative with fear and desperation. Gradually the past runs into the present and we begin to understand Kasper: the man with a heart who has learnt to be ruthless via necessity while still harbouring a future dream.
In a setting where no one is what they seem, Ben provides Frau Beckmann (a particularly noxious and mysterious baddie), with some interesting enforcers: a pair of early-teen twins. Anyone who is wary of teenagers at the moment will have even more reason to be nervous once they've read the novel. In fact, by the time our nerves have been nicely mangled, their appearances begin to engender the same feelings as the Don't Look Now movie dwarf.
Indeed, if you like your thrillers with a historic back drop, a delicious dollop of darkness seasoned with a touch of brutality and, most importantly, you like your thrillers thrilling, look no further than Mr Fergusson's current offering. Not only does he write engagingly, he does so with a style that enables us to live every moment within his pages – as my finger nails testify!
(Thank you so much, Little Brown, for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If you'd like to read more of the rough road that Germany had to travel after the war, we heartily recommend The Soldier's Story by Bryan Forbes. If you'd rather just continue with the thrills, we just as eagerly suggest The Professionals by Owen Laukkanen.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Spring of Kasper Meier by Ben Fergusson at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Spring of Kasper Meier by Ben Fergusson at Amazon.com.
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