BLOOD WINTER by William Patrick


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Patrick follows up on his biotech thriller (Spirals, 1983) with a murky, plodding melodrama that attempts to blend chemical-warfare intrigues with the decadent ambience of blockaded Berlin during the harsh winter of 1916-17. Fearful that Germany might be developing biological weapons, British military intelligence recruits Eli Gordon, a battlefield surgeon on voluntary duty with Allied forces and citizen of the still-neutral US, to investigate. Working out of the American Embassy as an inspector of POW camps, he soon encounters Margarethe Riesling, a seductive young researcher at the Institute of Infectious Diseases and source of the anonymous tips that brought him to Berlin. Eli also crosses the paths of Erskine Fisk (the Kaiser's dentist and a black-marketeer whose operations make a grim reality of sausage-machine jokes); the homosexual head of state security; a police detective probing the covered-up murder of Margarethe's lover (a colonel in the ministry of chemical armaments), and a wealth of other heavies. In the meantime, at the behest of none other than Winston Churchill, perfidious Albion is preparing a pre-emptive strike with anthrax-laden ordnance on the dubious premise its foe will mount a breakout offensive with germ-bearing shells. Germany; of course, has no such plans, in part because the High Command wants for a magic-bullet antidote. In her lab, however, German-born Margarethe has discovered a rare species of mold with antibacterial properties (which Alexander Fleming will dub penicillin in 1928). She reluctantly joins forces with much-battered Eli to flee the Reich with her scientific secrets. Pursued by bad guys from both sides, the star-crossed pair (who become lovers) make it across the border to Holland, leaving an inordinate number of corpses in their wake. While they're shot and wounded on the steps of the UK's Amsterdam consulate, England shelves its plague campaign and watches as German troops stage a scorched-earth withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. While Patrick evokes WW I Berlin with some success, his unfocused narrative suffers from a surfeit of repellent or unsympathetic characters, muddled motivations, and disjointed plot-lines that add up to little more than a series of mildly shocking set-pieces.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1990
Publisher: Viking