The Counterfeit Candidate by Brian Klein
Conspiracy theories are the stuff of many a great thriller; one of the very best I’ve read before is Fever City by Tim Baker which took on JFK, (as did Stephen King in 11.22.63 which I’ve yet to read). There are just as many alien conspiracy thrillers, after Roswell and Area 51, also the moon landings etc.
However, the scariest of them all are probably those that take on the absolute monsters of the Nazi Third Reich – I read one shocker a good few years ago – Alan Folsom’s futuristic The Day After Tomorrow, a huge bestseller from the mid 1990s which was a waste of my reading time. A way better one is Ira Levin’s The Boys From Brazil, which involves “The Angel of Death” Dr Josef Mengele (Cathy reviewed this earlier this week for the 1976 Club here) – I think I may have read the book, but I do remember the film with Gregory Peck as Mengele and Laurence Olivier as the Nazi-hunter.
Earlier this summer, I was sent a copy of The Counterfeit Candidate by Brian Klein, and I finally read it, inspired by Cathy’s review of the Levin. Klein is a television director, noted particularly for many seasons of Top Gear, although he has directed plenty more shows, this is his first novel.
The cover of this novel in a way tells you everything you need to know – from the eagle of the Third Reich entwined into the doctor’s caduceus with the snakes being a double helix, and then the White House below. The questions are that in asking ‘What if?’, how does the author link one to the other, and surely that simply cannot be the end result???
The prologue gives us the accepted timeline in which Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide in the Berlin bunker on 30th April 1945.
Then we leap to Buenos Aires in 2012, where Pedro Garcia is planning the bank robbery of the new century, which has been years in the planning, and eight months in the execution, as Pedro and his two associates tunnelled their way into a bank vault to rob the contents of the safety deposit boxes. They manage to get millions and millions of dollars, gems, jewellery, bonds, etc. The plan is to just split the box contents randomly between them and each would hide them for at least a year. What they don’t know is that after the news of the robbery breaks, the owners of box 1321, which just contained an old leather briefcase, the contents of which they didn’t have time to examine, will do anything to retrieve or destroy its contents – and anyone who may have seen them. This job is given to fixer Mattias Paz, who runs Theodor Consultants. He is engaged by Richard Franklin, the CEO of a huge multinational pharmaceutical company headquartered in San Francisco. Franklin’s son, John, is on the verge of being crowned the Republican candidate for the upcoming presidential elections. Chief Inspector Nic Vargas of the Buenos Aires police will have his job cut out to solve the robbery and what comes after.
That’s the present, now we return to the past, 30th April 1945 to be precise, and Hitler and Eva Braun secretly exit the bunker with Hitler’s personal secretary Martin Bormann, who has made escape plans for the trio to go to Patagonia, where Bormann has had a discrete house built.
That summarises the first chapter of each storyline for you – I’ll leave you to think about what might happen next. Needless to say, it’s a race against time for Vargas and his colleagues who are increasingly in danger for their own lives as they uncover more about the owners of the robbed boxes. Set against this, are chapters going back in time for the last days of Hitler and Eva Braun – with guest appearances from the other Nazis who’d fled to South America including Mengele, as well as Juan Perón, who sheltered them.
I enjoyed the writing in this conspiracy thriller. Once you accept the ‘what if?’ premise, it was tightly plotted and coming in at just under 300 pages in my trade paperback proof, suitably pacy. I really liked Vargas – it would be nice if Klein was able to give him another outing. Klein’s biggest monster is the manipulative Bormann, who takes control from the start as Hitler declines and the potential outcome of his plans made this a truly scary read. It would also, given Klein’s usual job, be great on screen.
Source: Review copy – Thank you. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.
Brian Klein, The Counterfeit Candidate – Level Best Books – paperback original, 384 pages.