A poky thriller about Nazis, neo-Nazis, and some seriously flawed good guys slogging around in a geopolitical swamp.
Meet grim, gray widower Joe Hoover, our misanthropic hero: his kids don’t like him, his grandkids don’t like him, and he returns the favor. Things were different in 1942, a time he often harks back to. Then Joe, a package wrapped tighter and brighter, was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services, the intelligence group headed by spymaster Allen Dulles, and sent, undercover, into Germany to pal around with Eichmann, Himmler, and similar unworthies of the Third Reich. Flash forward to the present. Hoover gets a strange phone call from a wartime associate: Karl-Heinz Strasse, the double-agent for whom he was case officer 60 years ago. Karl-Heinz indicates that he has a matter of considerable urgency to discuss, but that he can do so only face-to-face. Hoover—snapping out of his Weltschmerzian fog—sets off for old haunts and a few nostalgic reunions with old spooks. Turns out that Karl-Heinz, a handsome and elegant SS officer in 1942, is now a bloated object of pity whose sense of urgency is often pickled in alcohol. It’s through him, however, that Hoover meets Vaughan, a freelance investigative journalist attempting to do a story on Germany’s neo-Nazis, in particular Siegfried, “the yuppie Neo.” Hoover and Vaughan discover an affinity for each other and become allies in a somewhat desultory war against the darker aspects of the military-industrial complex. To Hoover, it’s an old war. How foolish, he tells himself wearily, to think it had been won.
Overcomplicated and paced at a crawl, but the real failure in Petit’s fourth (after Back from the Dead, 2001, etc.) is characterization. To elicit love, hate, or any other active reader response, his people need the creative elbow-grease they don’t get here.