Review – GARDEN OF BEASTS by Jeffery Deaver

I purchased this novel in hardcover when it came out, at Sam’s Club (the reason I know is because it still had the sticker on it)  probably circa 2004, and then I shelved it and never read it.  Why not?  Well, I have to say that I’m not a big historical fiction reader, and when I re-read the blurb on the dust cover, it just never grabbed me, never made me want to pick it up next.  There was always something that grabbed me a bit more.

Recently I’ve been reading a lot on my Kindle, but I still have stacks of hardcover books I’ve picked up off of the bargain tables at various bookstores, especially Barnes and Noble.  Recently I’ve been making a bit of an effort to clear some of those that have been staring at me the longest, and this one jumped out at me.  I’d read something on Steven M. Moore’s blog praising the novel, and I thought, “That one has been sitting there a long time…why not give it a try?”

I’m very glad I did.  GARDEN OF BEASTS:  A Novel of Berlin 1936 was a first-rate thriller with world class villains — the Nazis.  Hitler, Goering, and Himmler (among others) all make appearances as American “button man” Paul Schumann agrees to go to Berlin with the Olympic team in order to hit, not Hitler, not Himmler or Goering or Goebbels, but a fictional character (I think) named Reinhard Ernst.

This Ernst fellow seems to be a different sort than those others, a more rational man who is motivated by a love for his country, not a blind adherence to the politics of hate and racism.  But he is the “architect” of the German military buildup, and the Americans feel that he needs to be eliminated, and in a public manner.  Schumann is dispatched to kill him in return for having his record expunged and being paid a large cash sum, which will allow him to “go straight”.

Once there, however, things are not as simple as they are laid out.  Ernst, involved in a project called the Waltham Study, has to outmaneuver Goering, the air minister, and deal with family issues as Schumann stalks him through Berlin.  Schumann and his contact collect the information and the weapons that he will need to carry out his assignment, and meets up with a German con man named Webber and the manager of his boarding house, Kathe Richter.  Oh, and along the way, he falls in love — with Ms. Richter.

Plenty of intrigue and misdirection follow as Schumann tries to finish his job and get back to the United States.  The ending was satisfying and somewhat unexpected.  I only wish I had not waited over ten years to read it.  What other treasues are waiting for me among those stacks?


Watch this blog for announcements about my next novella, a 37000 word work I call THE INN.  It will be available on Amazon for Kindle by the end of the week.


2 thoughts on “Review – GARDEN OF BEASTS by Jeffery Deaver

  1. Steven M. Moore

    Don’t feel bad. I have books sitting around I haven’t read either. Hal Malchow’s The Dragon and the Firefly (fantasy, I assume) and Carlos Fuentes’ Destiny and Desire (romance, I assume)–probably old relatives who confuse genres and/or think I love everything Latin American–I’ve kept them, assuming I’d read them some day. Others I’ve just given away for books sales in schools and libraries. It’s kind of sad–these people obviously spent good money on hardcover books for ye olde reader/writer–but one only has so much time to read.
    I’m happy you liked Garden of Beasts. I consider it Deaver’s best. Never reviewed it, but if anybody asks, I’ll refer them to your review. I was happy to see you didn’t have any spoilers. One thing that’s encouraging about this book is that it proves that books have long legs. My paperback copy is also 2004; there’s a Kindle edition, and at $8.54, it’s not unreasonably priced for the Big Five (how did they get that crazy price?). At any rate, your review reminded me how much I liked this book.
    I’d certainly like to try historical fiction in the style of Beasts and some recent books I reviewed. I’m not sure I can hack it, though. In a 2004 interview, Deaver said he spent two years researching background for Beasts. It’s also a special niche too–many of today’s readers don’t even remember when John Lennon was killed, let alone any of the events of World War Two. I guess there will always be history aficionados who also like fiction, though.
    I’m interested in seeing The Inn’s blurb and “peek inside.” Maybe I’ll even read it, although your creations aren’t always my cup o’ tea. I wish you success with it.

  2. Scott Dyson

    If you read the previous post, you’ve seen some comps for THE INN, at least the tone and the “how far does it go?” stuff. But I’m not sure that it would be your type of read at all. Thanks for looking, though.

    I don’t know how critical my review is; I more or less summarize the plot then say it’s good. But I didn’t have too much more to say about it. It was a great thriller and like I said, you can’t do much better than those guys as villains.

    Thanks for the good wishes. Hopefully I’ll get the thing out soon. I’m maybe going to tinker with the cover a bit more…

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