By Jeff Salter
This week we’re focused on other books or authors which we’ve really enjoyed reading. So it’s my pleasure to highlight a terrific book by my friend, colleague, editor, and publisher, the multi-talented J. Gunnar Grey.
Deal with the Devil
from J. Gunnar Grey, the acclaimed author of Trophies
He wasn’t supposed to be on the plane. Now Major Faust is a prisoner of the English and he must escape before they break him. But every time he gets away, a woman is raped and murdered. The English need someone to hang. He’s the hot suspect.
He’s got to catch the killer, even though he’s helping the enemy. It’s collaboration, almost treason. It’s making a Deal with the Devil.
At its heart, this is a tense battle of strategy, control, information, and misinformation between a captured German officer and his interrogator, in a small British community during WW2. But the focus is not so much on any particular battle or campaign as much as it is on the effects of the war itself on those in uniform and those on the (English) home front.
I should reveal that I’m fascinated with the WW2 era and I’ve read uncountable monographs and many hundreds of articles. Not only an amateur military historian, I’m also an avid collector of militaria with special focus on WW2. So when I see a new novel set during that period, I want to read it. I was particularly pleased to delve into this British setting during the early part of the war, before America even committed troops.
Recently republished, it’s billed as a “historical psychological mystery” — which is apt, since there’s a goodly share of emphasis on a compelling sub-plot: civilian police detectives investigating several mysterious, brutal murders. I’m usually very good at guessing the true villain in a mystery, but I confess I was surprised at the identity revealed near the end of this book.
There is also action, since Major Faust is honor-bound to assist (in multiple ways) his interrogator Major Stoner… and Stoner’s granddaughter / assistant. And Faust is duty-bound to attempt escapes.
Though loyal to the German Wehrmacht, Faust does not embrace the Nazi party though it takes him a while to realize how disparate those are. Actually, he has as much reason to fear the SS as any Englander would, since his own outfit logically assumes he deserted. Faust’s primary dilemma, if he is successful at escape — he may be in worse trouble at home with the SS.
Faust was not even supposed to be in England — he lowered his guard and was manipulated onto an ill-fated Luftwaffe bomber by a vengeful colleague. But, naturally, his British captors assume he’s a spy. And, naturally, when those brutal civilian murders occur during times he “could have” committed them, Faust is everyone’s obvious suspect. As one character finally warns Faust (paraphrasing): “if you escape military custody, the local citizens will string you up.”
In addition to the novel’s many other components, there is a subdued romantic element between Faust and Jennifer (Stoner’s granddaughter).
One of my few nitpicks: I found myself questioning Faust’s motivation at times, for example, when he needlessly provokes his captors (especially the sergeant).
Grey’s descriptive prose was so lavishly detailed I could see and smell and feel the surroundings … a very enjoyable read.