A messy, over-the-top thriller set in postwar Berlin.
A pimp, a whore, a midget and a soldier in a mink coat propel the plot of this first novel from Cambridge-educated Vyleta. The soldier is an epicene brute, a grotesquely fat British colonel called Fosko; he has a secret fact-gathering operation and uses torture. He gets wind of a wily German midget, Söldmann, who trades information on the black market and frequents a brothel run by an American, Boyd. Fosko, promising a British passport, induces a desperate young German woman, Sonia, to go work for Boyd and spy on the midget. Söldmann does indeed have an immensely valuable microfilm. Fosko has him killed. Boyd dumps the dead midget on his best friend, Pavel; soon after Fosko has Boyd tortured and killed, but the microfilm is missing. Thus Pavel enters the story. He claims he’s an American citizen, son of a German-Jewish father and a Russian mother, but who knows for sure? He’s an enigma, a gentle man who kills ruthlessly when he must and inspires devotion. Sonia the whore, who by now is Fosko’s mistress and living next door, falls for him big time. So does Anders, the young gang member looking for a surrogate father. Even Peterson, Fosko’s one-eyed torture guy and the “I” of the title, comes to love him like a brother. All this happens around Christmas 1946. Berlin is bitter cold. Its poverty is abject. Underneath their tough-guy exteriors, Vyleta’s characters are quietly weepy, except for Fosko, who sings a Christmas carol as he strips a Russian corpse (the Russkis want that microfilm too); the man is so vile you know the author has a horrible end planned for him. The story, clumsily told, moves in fits and starts, doubles back on itself and switches viewpoints recklessly, bringing us no closer to understanding Pavel.
Pretentious and silly.