Adler-Olsen (The Marco Effect, 2014, etc.) begins his first stand-alone thriller with a World War II reconnaissance mission.
During the flight, RAF pilots James Teasdale and Bryan Young, boyhood friends, are shot down. They avoid capture, slipping aboard an eastern front ambulance train, tossing two wounded Germans from a rail car and assuming their identities. Unknowingly, they now are assumed to be elite SS troopers with battle fatigue. While "[a]n SS officer could not be brought home insane"—"normally there was…an injection and a coffin"—the Nazis secretly hospitalized the more important ones. Tense and claustrophobic, the narrative finds James and Bryan confined with and harassed by three sadistic malingerers: Kröner, an "enormous, gnarled figure [with a] pockmarked face"; Lankau, a "broad-faced monster"; and Stich, their puppeteer. James is silenced by shock therapy and medication. Bryan resists and escapes. Home in England, he grows rich as a physician and inventor, but in 1972, a chance encounter reignites unsettled memories, even though "his bad conscience had lost intensity." He decides to return to Freiburg to learn James’ fate, though his friend is supposedly dead because the Allies had "wiped out that viper’s nest." Postwar, however, the three SS officers, rich on loot, secreted James in an institution; this is a weaker plot element, given the SS’s sociopathic evil. The novel then chronicles bloody, violent confrontations between Bryan and the former Nazis. While handling the conflict between loyalty and survival with nuance and depth, Adler-Olsen’s early battle scene isn’t as realistic or frightening as the story of the pair’s hospitalization. Nevertheless, he has a solid grip on settings, more so in Germany than England, and the complex tale unfolds with plausibly ambiguous emotions as Bryan discovers "[e]ach element had played its essential role in one magnificent lie."
A study of loyalty confronting madness and evil.