Title: Orders From Berlin
Author: Simon Tolkien. He is the author of 3 previous thrillers.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Summary: It’s September of 1940. France has fallen and London is being bombed day and night. Almost single-handedly Winston Churchill maintains the country’s morale. Britain’s fate hangs in the balance and the intelligence agencies on both sides of the Channel are desperate for anything that could give them an edge.
Albert Morrison, ex-chief of MI6, is pushed over the banister outside his London apartment. He falls to his death at the feet of his daughter, Ava, but it is too dark for her to see the attacker before he escapes. Two Scotland Yard detectives attend the crime scene: Inspector Quaid and his junior assistant, Detective Trave. Quaid is convinced that this is a simple open-and-shut case involving a family dispute, but Trave is not so sure. Following a mysterious note in the dead man’s pocket, Trave discovers that Morrison was visited by Alec Thorn, deputy head of MI6, on the day of his death. Could Thorn—who is clearly carrying a flame for Morrison’s daughter—be involved in a plot to betray his country that Morrison tried to halt, and if so, can Trave stop it in time in this gripping and intelligent thriller?
I grew up surrounded by and immersed in World War II history, and I’m always on the lookout for a great novel set during the war. Orders From Berlin wasn’t quite it.
This is a novel with an interesting plot, with a nice twist in it. Unfortunately, the writing. Oh, the writing.
I don’t understand the trend of giving every single character viewpoint character status. Thrillers and mysteries (and almost everything else) are best told from limited POVs, to keep the reader guessing. The twist in the plot would have been much more satisfactory if it hadn’t been telegraphed ahead of time — from the villain’s POV. Sure, it’s more difficult to plot and write a novel with a limited POV — but so worth it. I lost track of the POVs in this book. Also, there were some egregious episodes of head-hopping, which should have been edited out.
Other editing issues: multiple sections of long, boring exposition and info dumps. Unnecessary Nazi-POV sections (what is the hangup with Heydrich? It was veering into uncomfortable territory.) Forget the plot to kill Churchill: the publisher needs a plot to kill off Tolkien’s little darlings. Some editor, somewhere, should be ashamed. (Or if Mr. Tolkien bullied his editor into letting that crap stay in, he should be ashamed.)
The novel doesn’t get going until around page 50. (The book jacket blurb bears no resemblance to the novel until about page 50. I had no idea who the hero of the novel was supposed to be.) If you can make it through those pages — including the abomination (if there isn’t already a collective noun for semicolons, I propose “abomination”) of semicolons — you may get hooked. If you can stick it out until 150, it will keep you up late finishing it.
In sum: good ideas, but weakly executed. Lots of potential, though. If Mr. Tolkien works with a good editor next time around and *listens* to her, he could have something great on his hands.
I did not enjoy this book. I love WWII military fiction — it is one of my favorite genres. But that didn’t translate here. I found Tolkien’s characters one-dimensional and the plot too far-fetched, and not thoroughly researched enough to be believable. If reading a spy novel, I’d like to read more detail about spy craft, which was totally absent here. If reading military fiction, I’d like to read more details about strategy, planning and execution. Again, this was missing. The history was shallow, and the plot did not move. If it weren’t for the commitment to review it, I would have abandoned it mid-read. I did, however, slough through it, hoping it would get better. It didn’t.
Read Instead: Anything else. But if truly interested in WWII military spy fiction, consider W.E.B. Griffin’s The Corps series. If more interested in WWII historical fiction, grab Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. Just don’t grab Orders from Berlin.
It took some time for me to get into this book. Once I did, I found the story interesting and liked some of the characters very much. The portrayal of London during the Blitz was sad and fascinating at the same time. There were many details that Tolkien included which added to the atmosphere of Blitz-time London. It wasn’t a mystery as to who had done the murder that happens early on in the book, but the book still had a nice tension to it as the main characters raced to figure out what the reader already knows. In all, it was a nice read, but given the size of the stack of books to be read on my night table, if not for the need to read and review it, this one would have been put aside quickly in favor of something a little more exciting and fast-moving.