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Sister Mary Murderous

Favorite genres are traditional mystery, police procedurals, espionage, Eurocrime, literary fiction and nonfiction history, especially WW2 and Cold War.  I write about crime fiction at Read Me Deadly (www.readmedeadly.com)

A document chase around central Europe

Basic Law: A Mystery of Cold War Europe - J. Sydney Jones

If you read a lot of thrillers, you know the basic structure of the document-based type.  There is a chase by multiple characters after some document or manuscript, either because it’s valuable for its rarity or because its exposure would harm some of the chasers or their masters.


In this case, the mcguffin is the memoirs of Renate Müller, a well-known leftist political figure in Germany.  As the book begins, “Reni” has been found dead, an apparent suicide.  Her old lover, Sam Kramer, travels north to the funeral from Vienna, where he is a jaded political reporter.  There, he learns that he’s been named Reni’s literary executor. Her publisher tells Sam that they paid Reni a sizable advance on her memoirs and ask him about the manuscript.


Not only has Sam not found a manuscript, but he suspects that Reni’s death was not a suicide.  The quest is on.  In his search, Sam is joined by Randall, an old friend who, along with Sam and Reni, was part of a group of seven friends whose political activities in 1968 Prague led to disaster for one of their group.


As Sam and Randall travel around central Europe––and even to Crete––chasing down clues to the manuscript’s location, questions arise about their old friends––and their new enemies, who seem to be all around and not willing to stop until they’ve eliminated Sam.  Before Sam cracks the case, he’ll expose dirty politics from a lot of Germans over the last 50 years, from old Nazis to Stasi members to neo-Nazis.


The novel is a slow starter, but it gets going about one-third of the way through and after that it’s an absorbing chase.  I wish Jones had been clearer about when the contemporary part of the story is set.  I spent a lot of time trying to figure that out.  Well, just FYI, it’s 1994, shortly after the end of the Cold War, but a time of political ferment in the new Germany, with the rise of new right-wing parties.  My other slight quibble with the story is that Jones’s characterization could be stronger.  I didn’t get a very three-dimensional feel to Sam’s character.  All in all, though, this is a readable thriller and should be of particular interest to those who enjoy late 20th-century espionage tales.


Note:  I was given an advance copy for purposes of review.