THE HOUSE OF JANUS by Donald James

THE HOUSE OF JANUS

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Most amnesia cases focus on the victim's attempts to discover his identity; this one--by the author of The Fall of the Russian Empire (1982) and Once a Gentleman (1987)--shows a WW I American GI's revulsion against the identity he seems condemned to. Martin Coburg's family background is filled with ugly drama, from his grandfather Pierre's rivalry with his twin brother Emil over the international territorial rights to the house of Janus--the Coburg currency-engraving firm--to his weak-willed father John's homosexual liaison with Jack Aston to his mother Rose's seduction--later continued by Martin's twin sister Celine--of Pierre for business purposes. Visiting Emil's German branch of the family in 1939, Martin falls in love with his adopted cousin Alexina, but gets distracted from her by the exercising of a treacherously arranged droit du seigneur pairing him with Emil's sister-in-law Elisabeth the night before she marries SS-officer Rolf Oster. As FDR hangs fire about whether to enter the war, pro-Allied Emil plots (1) to thwart Hitler's plan to use Emil's revolutionary new Janus press to print $20 million in counterfeit American currency to donate to Wendell Wilkie, and (2) to sabotage the German economy by flooding the Reich with bogus deutschemarks. In Lisbon to escort vociferously objecting Pierre out of the country, Martin learns that Emil and Alexina have been betrayed to the Gestapo and stays behind to fight for them. A fade-in after six years picks up Martin as an amnesiac horrified to find an SS tattoo on his underarm branding him as the informant, and equally horrified to learn that everyone in his family--Rose, Celine, Elisabeth--refuses to acknowledge him, Celine having taken advantage of his disappearance to cut him out of Pierre's will and take over the business herself. The hope of finding Alexina or the missing Janus press makes Martin's straggle to reestablish himself an obsession in the face of murderously adamant opposition. A gripping, elaborate, thoroughly satisfying Monte Cristo fantasy.

Pub Date: Oct. 24th, 1990
Publisher: Donald Fine