Three boys, products of a Nazi geneticist’s experiment, break free from their confines, with one of them becoming a proficient killer, in the second of Ernst’s (Inhumanum, 2016) thriller series.
In the tunnels underneath Berlin, Dr. Wolfgang Bähr spends his post–World War II days experimenting with parthenogenesis in mammals. Years later, the scientist locks away twins, whom he eventually names Ryker and Rickard, and an “exquisite” third boy, The One Who Was Different. It’s not surprising that the three, advanced in numerous ways, most notably intelligence, manage to escape their prison. Outside the tunnels is a library, where they befriend librarian Fräulein Gitte and amass a wealth of information from books. Later discovering a surgical amphitheater, Ryker and Rickard start bringing their brother pedophiliac priests, hoping he can perhaps find a flaw in the men’s brains. The Different One ultimately adopts the name Osgar and decides to hunt other pedophiles and Nazi war criminals, not so much for justice as for the simple fact that he enjoys killing. Osgar’s perfectly suited to be an assassin, a job he’s known for by the early 1990s. It’s also the reason he’s a threat to toxicologist Henna Maxwell, targeted by a lobbyist out for revenge. Fortunately, Henna’s got vigilante Bonn Maddox on her side and a couple of unlikely allies. The brothers, who appeared in the author’s previous novel, take the reins for this enthralling story, their gradual evolution a highlight. Ryker and Rickard, for example, are the strong ones, sporting anatomical features that are frankly mesmerizing—including two sets of eyelids, à la reptiles. Osgar initially seems meek, the pale, weaker brother, but he turns out to be the most deadly and formidable. It’s a bit disappointing that the brothers share the spotlight with returning protagonists Henna and Bonn in the second half. Ernst sets an impressive pace in the final act, but he accomplishes this by not using pages to re-establish characters; readers will need to be familiar with the series’ first installment. There are shocks and a gratifying ending, with gaps in the brothers’ timeline leaving room for perhaps another book centering on the reptilian Germans.
A haunting historical backdrop provides a base for a triad of curious but irresistible characters.