Tag Archives: thriller

Review: Levi’s War, Horowitz #3 (Julie Thomas)

I’m of two minds about Levi’s War, the closing chapter of the Horowitz trilogy. I wanted to like it much more than I did, and I wanted it to be able to stand on its own, and it doesn’t. I wouldn’t say it’s a crushing disappointment, as it is not, but neither is it a rip-roaring tale of a fictional Jew (the Levi of the title) trained as a spy and assassin (more on this later), who by sheer happenstance lands in Hitler’s inner circle during WWII.

I get that historical fiction, and especially historical spy/thriller tales, need a lot of suspension of disbelief and a big helping of coincidence, but this really strained my willingness to remain in the book. But, as my power cut off during a storm, and remained off for over two hours, and having already read the other books on my Netgalley shelf, I didn’t have much else to do.

As might be clear from the above, it’s an easy enough, although rather pedestrian, read, and I did complete it during the outage. It is the third book in a trilogy, and this time, I’d say that reading the first two would have been a huge help to keep track of who everyone was, and who was related to whom. Completely denoting it as a third book in that way would have saved Ms Thomas the need to insert explanatory passages from the first two books, and would have saved us having to read them – multiple times throughout. While I know some people minded how the story was told – a young, 1945 Levi tells his story to a camera, the film is found during archival digitizing, and the immediate, extended, and descendant family watching that film – but this was fine with me. I didn’t care for just how dry – almost clinically dry – it was.

If you’re coming to this book and its weighty subject expecting to find a deeply emotional, resonant work set during one of the most shameful eras of human existence, you won’t find it here. There isn’t anyone in this book who seemed to be passionate about anything at all, except for Levi when playing the piano. His relationship with a childhood friend and a young Luftwaffe officer was mundane, and it wasn’t love that occupied Levi’s thoughts, but textbook dry, junior high muddling. Since homosexuality was criminalized, I’d have expected much more about how Levi and Erik evaded detection, since it’s clear Levi spends many nights – consecutive nights – at Erik’s place, something that surely would have generated gossip.

Beyond that, the book is a rather straightforward account of what Levi did during the war. He leaves Berlin, bound for London via Sweden, but gets held up by a Nazi at a checkpoint. Now, Levi at this point if just Levi, the musician. In this scene, he may as well be James Bond: the Nazi’s Ruger jams not once, but twice when he tries to shoot Levi. Levi needs only to step into the Nazi as the latter is about to pistol whip him and throw what amounts to one punch, which slams the man against a wall an knocks him out. Then Levi picks up the gun and flees with his belongings into the woods, magically making it to London despite having no military or survival training.

All the right doors open for Levi when they need to, and all the right people appear for him when the plot needs it. He works as a banker until total war breaks out, at which point he is placed in a camp with other refugees. He’s eventually tapped by the British to be a spy – and not just any spy: a spy whose purpose is to get into the circle of high level Nazis in order to send information back to the Allies. The British train him in less than a year, and he’s off to Berlin, to work in Goebbels’ office, translating English newspaper articles. He’s tapped to play piano at a party, eventually making it up the Nazi food chain until hes sent to play or Hitler himself. In doing so, he manages to send back quite a it of material, because the Nazis apparently don’t keep their mouths shut about organizational issues and/or chitchat when junior officers are present.

Levi eventually leaves Germany with Erik, who has recently been snuck out of Dachau worse for wear. They decide that Italy is where they should go, to fight with the partisans there, and that’s just what they do, traveling at night and hiding out during the day – something Levi does again later, on his own, and in neither instance is there any threat to being discovered. There’s no tension on those pages or many others in this book.

The Allies win, Levi is debriefed, and off he goes to live his life, with his relatives only finding out the story all those years later, watching the film. The ending sputters out a little, with a genealogy search that says flat out the circle of the Horowitz tale is over, instead of using a more metaphorical image to end on.

It’s decent enough if you’re casting around for something to read and have a few hours to do so. But if you haven’t read the first two books, just a warning that you’ll see the same information presented over and over because you weren’t there for the first two.

Two and half stars, rounded to three, and that only because the story, in its own framework, held itself together to the end.

Thanks to Harper360 and NetGalley for the review copy.

A Matter of Will – book review

Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas&Mercer for the electronic advance copy. This book is slated for release this summer.

Before I go in, a side note: this is an uncorrected proof. I’m not sure if whoever edits these titles reads the feedback, but please, for the love of anything you hold holy, correct the instances of “shelf company” to “shell company”. I’ve never read anything else by this author, so have no comparisons to earlier works of his.

Will Matthews is a not-so-successful broker (or “wealth manager”) at a finance company – so unsuccessful that he gets dumped on by his boss on an almost daily basis and worries he will be fired at any moment. Enter Sam and Eve, who he meets at a hockey game. Before he knows what has hit him, Sam is sweeping Will off his feet, taking him to lavish dinners, tuxedo-required parties, and parking tens of millions of dollars with him for investing. He basically buys Will a ten million dollar apartment, and makes him sign off as a director of or participant in various shell companies.

Meanwhile, Gwen is a young attorney added to the team defending a Hollywood star, who has allegedly killed his wife. Will and Gwen meet up via a dating app, have a dinner, and another date. They wind up as a couple – it’s true love for both of them.

There’s no real way to go through the rest without spoilers, so I’ll leave it at: everything is not as it seems, and soon after that, Will and Gwen have to start thinking about their very survival, both professionally and personally.

The good: it’s easy enough to read. The author doesn’t wander off into incomprehensible jargon associated with his own profession (law) when some courtroom/lawyer scenes come up. Will is given a fairly good backstory. There’s some infodumping, given as dialogue instead of a wall of text.

The bad: I’m sorry to say I found it to be a weird mashup of The Firm and Wall Street and When Harry Met Sally. Will is so naive as to be implausible, and apparently it doesn’t sound any alarms to him that some random guy he meets wants to invest a fortune with him. .Even worse, the first 50% of the book is very dull throughout this. Not once does Will question anything, and the first half is just Will and Gwen going about their respective businesses.. It looks like the author couldn’t decide on what kind of book it should be, so included everything, and that swamped the entire book. Also: using the actual John Yoo in this? Not good.

The remainder of the book involves some murders, a bit of cat and mouse, and asks the reader to believe that the kingpin of a gigantic criminal organization would tell even the new nominal leader of it about plans, the evidence being held over their head, or allow that person to remain alive, knowing that person is not all in and is hesitant about roping in another young broker, among other things. We then get swept over once more to the legal bit playing out on Gwen’s side, which does nothing for the story. She, too, winds up appearing to be a tad too naive, and the ending is simply far too convenient, wrapping up all the details.

If this book were by an as yet unpublished author, and they submitted it as it is, that author would remain unpublished. It would be fine as a plane or beach read, but I would not recommend it.