Plan D by Simon Urban and Katy Derbyshire (Translator)

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Plan D by Simon Urban and Katy Derbyshire (Translator)

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: An East German 'alt-hist' thriller that makes its way through a story threaded with twists, turns and a lot of satisfaction.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 528 Date: June 2013
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1846556920

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October 2011 and the Berlin wall is still intact. Inspector Martin Wegener of the East German People's Police faces another day dividing his mind between thoughts of his luscious ex-lover Karolina and work. On this particular day 'work' is a body found hanging from the GDR section of gas pipeline that joins Russian to Europe. Not only is he hanging, the deceased has eight knots round his neck and his shoe laces are tied together: a Stasi trademark. Who is he and why are the Stasi killing again? Martin needs answers and they're sending a West Berlin detective in to help him find them; not the best start to a day.

German author Simon Urban and his translator, Katy Derbyshire, treat us to a detective with a difference in Martin Alfons Wegener. He's intelligent but life kind of happens to him and seems to be continually waiting in the wings to worsen his plight. Is he downhearted? No, he merely takes it in his stride and struggles on and I love him for it. We're on his side from the beginning, sympathising as he talks about his much-missed late parents and his much-missed all too present Karolina while coming to grips with his boss, his country's dictatorship, his job and his new ally, the suave, accomplished but totally likeable Richard Brendel.

Wegener's East Berlin is as monochrome as his life with few consumer goods offering respite unless you're a high-ranking party official. It's much as I remember real-history East Berlin from the news and current affairs programmes of my youth except, of course, the technology is better in the alt-hist as time has moved on. Party slogans appearing daily on self-changing billboards is just one of the many lovely touches and the fact that the Party chose to use one of Margaret Thatcher's quotes as the 'Economic Words of the Day' made me grin as much as it may make her spin.

The writing and translation is anything but monochrome. This isn't a comedy and there are adult themes but the inadvertently inept Inspector is not without a great personal sense of humour, often at the expense of the government that pays him in addition to his charming self-deprecation.

Wegener's ex-police partner and mentor Josef Frucht is another master stroke. He's 'ex' because he's dead; murdered and disposed of mysteriously. However he still speaks straight into Martin's mind, often providing a joyously sarcastic mental dialogue.

There are also touches of background humour, like the name of the top brass's house and even an unexpected belly laugh; I'd never have expected to nasally decant coffee over the phrase 'involuntary unification' before this novel but Simon made it happen.

The other thing that doesn't seem to have changed is dependence on natural resources. Even in this modern day Eastern Bloc fuel is the new gold and provides a credible background crossing the fiction/non-fiction border.

This is definitely Martin's book though; an account of a man trying to do his job against a wall of official secrets (no pun intended but since it's there…), power struggles, the local mafia and a miasma of personal loss and presumed inadequacy. He's a very human (and humane) copper in whom there's still a lot of mileage. (Subtle hint there if you're reading this Simon!)

If you've enjoyed this and like a good thriller, we also recommend The Eyes of Lira Kazan by Eva Joly and Judith Perrignon.

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Buy Plan D by Simon Urban and Katy Derbyshire (Translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Plan D by Simon Urban and Katy Derbyshire (Translator) at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Plan D by Simon Urban and Katy Derbyshire (Translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Plan D by Simon Urban and Katy Derbyshire (Translator) at


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