The Boys From Brazil by Ira Levin

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The Boys From Brazil by Ira Levin

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: The classic story of reviving the Nazi race in original novel form. While not quite the most fashionable thriller around, this is still well worth a perusal.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: July 2011
Publisher: Constable
ISBN: 978-1849015905

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A small group of powerful Nazis gather for a convivial post-prandial meeting and collect identities and orders from their leader, who is sending them to different corners of the world in order that many innocent people may be killed. But this isn't when you might expect - it's the mid-1970s. It isn't where you might expect, for these Nazis are remnants of Hitler's regime that fled to south America for safety. And the deaths are being ordered for reasons you will never foretell. In that regard, then, you are as well-informed as chief Nazi hunter Yakov Lieberman, who hears tantalising hints of the plot, but cannot fathom it - nor indeed find proof it has indeed started.

Set as Ira Levin was writing this in the mid-1970s, it is still easy to see now how this was a powerful book, and clearly one capable of being a successful thriller in the way, say, Fatherland by Robert Harris was a generation later. The build-up to the plan is brilliant in its unguessable nature - there seems to be no reason that either us nor Lieberman (nor indeed a lecture hall-ful at Heidelberg University) can see for the planned deaths. And when the lead Nazi involved, Auschwitz's "Doctor" Mengele, states "There will be exactly the outcome I promised", you cannot doubt him. It must have been galling to see him so much in the driving seat.

There is a line elsewhere from Lieberman, about him wishing for one of the Nazis to look the monster they had been. Mengele has to be powerful, yet not too powerful, determined while not hot-heated, and ultimately believable, for this to work. I found him so, and it does. There are instances of the story's details dating in ways Levin would not have expected though. There is far too much talk of people aged about 65, and about to be murdered, being very close to dying of natural causes anyway. A modern rewrite, or refilming (as I'm led to believe is on its way), would have Lieberman receive details of unusual deaths in ways far removed from the Reuters wires mentioned here.

On the whole it's an unusually-styled thriller. It could easily be a ticking-clock adventure against time, and it drifts towards that, only for our hero to take weeks out failing to find anything, and earning money to hunt Nazis on the lecture circuit. As the introduction in this new volume suggests, it's not strictly a hero we have anyway, but any embodiment of good against the Nazi horror becomes a hero. It does, more importantly, boil down to science fiction that can be laughed at in the 2010s, but the conviction of our author, the sterling set-up, and the basic, clear way everything is conveyed to us, add to a very readable and engaging story, one which might need a pinch of salt but will, either way, have a lengthy aftertaste.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

I have also just recently read and enjoyed the same author's Rosemary's Baby, a slightly connected look at bringing nastiness into the world. You might also enjoy A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin. For more crime from the seventies, try Stormtide by Bill Knox.

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Lauren Naefe said:

Hey, very cool feature of Levin. I'm writing from Open Road Media, the ebook publisher partnered up with Pegasus Books.

Thought you might get a kick out of this video featuring Chuck Palahniuk & Chelsea Cain & Jed Levin talking about the world and work of Levin.

Cheers, Lauren

Sue said:

Thanks for that, Lauren - we've embedded it to the right or you can follow the link in your comment.